Sonoma County supervisors Tuesday wrestled over how to avoid future funding and service disparities in the county's library system while still enabling supporters of individual branches to dedicate extra support to their libraries.
The issue was one of several concerns that dominated a nearly two-hour discussion of proposed revisions to the joint powers agreement for the county library system.
The new agreement seeks to solve an ongoing controversy about reduced operating hours for the system. It would allow supporters to kick in the money needed to support expanded hours for their branch, covering all extra costs including labor, operations and maintenance.
Critics say the provision could lead to unequal services among the 13 branches, with wealthier communities much better suited to generate the additional funding.
Supervisor Shirlee Zane lambasted the proposal.
"It's a social equity issue," she said. "It will erode the heart of our library system."
Supervisor Mike McGuire, who led a year-long discussion among city officials, library stakeholders and others about a new agreement, said it was a change sought especially by branch supporters in Sebastopol, Rohnert Park and Petaluma.
Currently, local donations can pay for furniture, capital improvements, enhanced collections — everything but expanded hours, McGuire explained.
The change would allow advocates who've blasted the reduced hours, which closed all branches on Mondays, to do something about it through donations.
"There should be some independence in the library system to have some independent hours," said Kristin Merrihew, a Santa Rosa resident who voiced support for the revision.