Measure F died a harsh death on Election Day, leaving the Kern County Library Department to face a 5 percent cut in funding without the $15 million in annual revenue supporters hoped the one-eighth cent sales tax measure would deliver.
Kern County Librarian Nancy Kerr said if the cuts remain at the 5 percent level then libraries will maintain current services levels through the 2016-2017 fiscal year.
“We think we’ve got it covered – barely. We can still operate using our savings,” she said.
But once this fiscal year — July 2016 through June 2017 — is done, those savings are gone, she said.
County Administrative Officer John Nilon explained, in an e-mail, that the library budget would drop to $7.01 million, $366,992 less than it had in the current fiscal year.
“’Life after Measure F’ is simply status quo,” Nilon wrote. “The Library budget will be handled in same way other department budgets are handled.”
To make up that savings, the department will have to leave six jobs vacant and use $161,858 in budget credits, called budget saving incentives, it had built up over the years by spending less than its annual budget allowed, Nilon reported.
Kerr said her worry is that the needs of other departments might bleed more cash from the libraries.
That would mean even less money, bigger cuts and some hard decisions about potential layoffs and reductions in library hours, she said.
And after this fiscal year, Kerr said, the library will face layoffs and service reductions because the county’s long-term budget situation is expected to be weak.
“Since the projection is that we will be cut next year, and the year after that, and the year after that,” she said, the future for Kern County Libraries is a challenged one.
But Kerr isn’t giving up.
She plans to make use of all the passionate discussion and debate about libraries that people stirred up in the lead up to the Measure F vote.
She plans to use all that community input to begin drafting a strategic plan for the Kern County Library system.
“We had all of that information we were able (to put) together from the 25 community meetings, the poll and the survey,” she said. “That information should inform a strategic plan.”
She said the library will continue to build on programs where it can, and pursue partnerships and grants to help “increase our services without spending money.”
“When you don’t have anything it inspires creativity,” Kerr said.
Kern County supervisors aren’t done talking about libraries, either.
Supervisors Mike Maggard and Mick Gleason said they will continue to seek solutions that will ensure the future of Kern County’s libraries.
“My efforts to fix our library system are not done,” Gleason said. “We have to fix our library service.”
He wouldn’t say what tools the board will use to enact that fix.
Measure F was, in substantial part, a backlash against a proposal put forward by the board and the County Administrative Office to explore the idea of outsourcing the management of libraries to a private company.
Opponents of the measure repeatedly pushed the idea of privatization as a way to improve county libraries without more taxes.
But neither Gleason or Maggard said anything about privatization this week.
Maggard said he is intrigued by the idea of expanding partnerships, like the one between the City of Shafter and the Kern County Library, that would bring in support for library operations while making more services available for the public.
But, he said, there’s something the county needs to do first.
“I think the next step is we should go to the community and ask them” what they want their libraries to become, he said. “We’re all ears. What are your ideas?”