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Sonoma County public library hours would be cut by a quarter at most branches under a scheduling change proposed to help close a more than $1 million budget gap.

Beginning July 31, all library branches would be closed Sundays and Mondays under the proposed schedule except the Central Library in downtown Santa Rosa, which would remain open from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays.

The Monday closures mean all libraries would be dark on what's often one of the busiest days of the week, library staffers said.

Libraries would be open just two weekday mornings and two weekday evenings, forcing cutbacks in morning children's programs and class visits, as well as closing the library when some senior groups currently visit, the workers said.

Library Director Sandra Cooper said the proposed cuts are based on efforts to meet the needs of both children and adults, offering some mornings, some evenings and some weekend hours, and to give employees consecutive days off.

"It should be no surprise to anybody that the library is suffering along with every other public entity in California," Library Commissioner Mary Arnold said, one of seven library commission members.

"One way or the other, we are faced with another operating deficit this year," Cooper said in an email. "Right now, we have gotten it down to $1.05 million, and we have reduced expenditures as far as we can without reducing services since the decline in revenue began two years ago."

Board members said continued declines in property tax revenue — which supplies about 90 percent of the system's $15.9 million budget — mean the library cannot provide the same level of service to the Sonoma County community, which recorded 2.8 million library visits last year.

The goal is to compress library hours so nearly all staffers work the same 40-hour workweek and can be floated to other branches if needed for vacation or leave coverage, limiting use of substitutes, which in the current fiscal year will cost about $612,000, Cooper said.

Since the library is self-insured and would be liable for unemployment benefits, the move would save about $250,000 next year — perhaps $400,000 the following year, Cooper said.

Ongoing contract negotiations will also determine if additional savings can be found through the kind of furlough days that during the past two years closed libraries for 10 days over the Christmas holiday, Cooper said. Additional economic concessions may be sought, as well.

SEIU Local 1021 representatives said they were informed by library management that layoffs were planned for all 26 substitute library workers — the people who fill in for staff members when they're on vacation or leave.

Employees gave up salary step increases over the past two years and increased their contributions to health coverage and retirement.

Some dispute that service hours are the only place left to cut and say more should be taken from reserve funds to support operations until property tax revenues revive.

But more are concerned that the proposed library schedule was assembled without public input, and contend different usage patterns at different library branches do not lend themselves to a uniform countywide schedule.

"I think that's all we're saying is think about this a little more," said Nancy Cimino, a member of the employee bargaining team.

"We're not saying they shouldn't cut service hours," SEIU representative Irene Rosario said. "That was one of the things that we proposed last year. But it needs to meet the public needs."

Danielle Noble, a Rincon Valley mother of two young children, learned of the proposed changes last week. She said she's especially concerned about the reduction in morning hours. "It really does cut the library's ability to be active in the youth's life," she said.

Santa Rosa resident Jenny Kidd, who said she brings her children to the library about twice a week, said she hates to see restricted hours but understands "it's a sign of the times."

"I understand the need for cuts to be painful, so I think we need to be open-minded about it," she said.

"I think that the public recognizes that we are living through challenging times, and public agencies are doing the best we can to live with limited resources," said Melissa Kelley, interim chairwoman of the Library Commission.

Currently, the Central Library is open 54 hours a week. Eight regional branches (Healdsburg, Northwest Santa Rosa, Petaluma, Rincon Valley, Rohnert Park-Cotati, Sebastopol, Sonoma Valley and Windsor) are open 52 hours weekly; Guerneville is open 50 hours; and Cloverdale is open 48 hours.

The new schedule would have them all open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and noon to 8 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays.

In addition, the main branch would be open Sunday afternoon.

Hours at the rural Occidental library would stay the same, at 15 hours. In Forestville, Monday afternoon hours would be switched to Fridays for a total 14 hours a week.

The proposed schedule is not on the agenda for a library commission meeting <NO1>Monday<NO>today, but Kelley said she would allow public input. The meeting is in the Forum Room in the Central Library to accommodate a larger than usual audience. It begins at 7 p.m.

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com.