Local libraries strong despite system-wide concerns

Despite anticipated budget shortfalls for the Los Angeles County library system of roughly $22 million a year over the next 10 years, its popular branches in La Cañada Flintridge and La Crescenta will be shielded from reduced hours or services in the coming years, the county's top librarian said.

On Nov. 30, county Librarian Margaret Donnellan Todd submitted a report to the Board of Supervisors warning that declining revenues could force cuts over the next decade in order to avoid millions of dollars in deficit spending through 2020.

That could mean stiff services cuts across the library system, but branches in the foothills are not expected to be protects by a special tax assessment in place since 1997.

This year's special library tax for residents of unincorporated areas and 11 cities, including La Cañada Flintridge, is a flat $27.84 per land parcel. The La Crescenta branch also benefits from utility tax funds, and in La Cañada, property tax revenues are expected to remain strong despite nationwide declines in real estate values.

"If you hear that the county libraries are falling apart, that's absolutely not true. We're taking a financial look 10 years down the road," Todd said. "We're primarily looking at some of the cities where there isn't a special tax and property tax isn't high enough to support operations and we currently cover that [gap] with general fund contributions."

While many of the 44 county branches — there are 85 in all — have actually increased hours of operation due to the extra revenue, the report predicts that those service enhancements may not be sustainable without a small increase to the parcel tax.

But Todd said more analysis was needed before the system would ask the Board of Supervisors for more money.

And now would be a bad time to ask for more money, said Tony Bell, a spokesman for L.A. County Supervisor Mike Antonovich.

"Every county department — in fact every agency, whether of the state or federal government — must live within its means. The libraries are no different," Bell said. "Now is not the right time to raise taxes. It's a time to tighten one's belt and look for ways to promote and increase efficiency, to do more with what you have."

In La Cañada Flintridge, city officials have increased library access since 2002 by using city funds to open up the La Cañada High School Information Resource Center to the public after school hours.

The library remains open from 3:30 to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday as part of a package of city and school district joint-use agreements, which also include sports fields and the Lanterman Auditorium.

The city's contribution of about $65,000 this year went to increased staff hours, maintenance and capital improvements, said Carl Alameda, senior management analyst for the city.

La Cañada High School teacher-librarian Lindsay Bozzani said the library handled 13,047 visits during public hours from September 2009 to June of this year — many of them families while siblings practiced on the sports fields or students waiting for their parents to arrive home from work.

Either way, "kids are here safe with their peers and overseen by school personnel," Bozzani said.

The Information Resource Center relieves some of the crowds at the La Cañada Flintridge Library, which L.A. County Library spokeswoman Pamela Broussard said averages more than 14,500 visits a month.

With a collection of more than 122,000 books, it ranks among the county's 25 busiest branches.

The La Crescenta Library, which opened a brand-new facility late last year, features more than 81,000 books and is visited some 24,000 times each month, making it the 10th most popular library in the system.

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