Since August 2011, my two young children, along with hundreds of thousands of Sonoma County residents, have been deprived of the use of our public libraries on Mondays and evenings. A decline in earmarked real estate taxes resulted in an ill-advised, unprecedented 25 percent cutback in weekly hours, from 52 to 40.
As a result, our much-loved 11 county libraries are overcrowded during their reduced opening hours. Meanwhile, the number of children participating in library programs has fallen by more than 12,000 a year. Seniors, children, parents and the needy are the hardest hit by this significant failure of local government, for the first known time in more than a century, to adequately fund this vital public resource.
Yet not a single one of the well-paid members of our county Board of Supervisors chose this week to take any responsibility for addressing this budgetary shortfall. Instead, they passed the buck and made excuses, arguing that addressing this historic crisis is simply not their responsibility.
Four supervisors told me that a 1975 joint powers agreement between Sonoma County and the cities that host the library system creates a dedicated real estate funding source that relieves them of any responsibility to address shortfalls.
They ignore the fact that the same agreement places the creation and augmentation of that funding source squarely on the county's shoulders. As well as a clause in the agreement that ensures libraries hours would not be diminished (in 1975, most of our libraries were open more than 52 hours per week)
Our supervisors just approved $1.3 billion in countywide spending, including $380 million from the general fund. Supervisors claim that as custodians of our relatively wealthy county's budget, they have more urgent things to do with our tax dollars than find the $1.3 million that it would cost to restore hours for the county's most widely used public facilities.