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Sonoma County Library to study funding in wake of Measure M defeat

The Sonoma County Library is grappling with how to pay for services and employee benefits - and hours of operation for branches - after voters in November narrowly rejected a sales tax measure that would have boosted library coffers by millions.

One proposal is to stagger library hours so that branches could be open at times they aren’t currently. All 11 of the largest library branches operate during the same hours, with the exception of the central branch in Santa Rosa, which unlike the others is open Sundays from 2 to 6 p.m.

All branches are closed Mondays.

“I think everything should be on the table,” said Joanne Sanders, a library commissioner who represents Sonoma Valley.

The Library Commission is holding a study session at 1 p.m. Monday in Santa Rosa to discuss how to move forward after voters in November turned down Measure M, a one-eighth-cent sales tax that would have supported library operations. Commissioners scheduled the meeting prior to the election, in anticipation that the measure would pass and they’d have more money to add programs and hours.

“Now that we lost .?.?. what do we do?” said Tim May, who chairs the commission.

No local ballot measure or candidate received more votes than Measure M. But with 63.3 percent of the vote, the measure failed to achieve the two-thirds necessary for passage.

The sales tax increase would have generated an estimated $100 million for the library system over the next decade. The expenditure plan called for restoring hours at the 13 branches that make up the system, upgrading facilities and extending services to “the unserved and underserved areas of the county.” Library officials said that could have included opening a new branch in Roseland.

Brett Lear, the library’s director, said Saturday that without that money, everything at the library “will stay flat.”

“I don’t see a significant reduction in services, but certainly, all these things we aspired to do, that we could have done, won’t happen.”

Lear said he doesn’t anticipate anyone losing their job as a result of Measure M going down. He said he also doesn’t foresee any significant reductions in services. The library system has a staff of approximately 138 full-time employees.

Lear said the total number of hours branches are open is unlikely to change. But he said those hours could be staggered so that some branches could be open at different times or on different days of the week, including Mondays.

The county’s library system receives almost all of its funding through a share of property taxes. The formula, which was set in 1978 with the implementation of Proposition 13, generated about $14.6 million last year, or about 97 percent of the library’s operating budget.

Library commissioners authorized a one-time transfer of $535,000 from reserves to help cover a deficit in this year’s budget. But officials project the system could run through the remaining $8 million to $10 million it has in reserves within five years without additional revenue.

Today’s commission meeting at Santa Rosa City Hall is likely to include a discussion of whether the library should try again with a bond measure.

Lear said the library “should do that at some point.”

Sanders, who owns an employment staffing firm and is a former mayor of Sonoma, said she wants the commission to examine retiree benefits and such things as workers compensation to see whether the commission can make changes to “reduce that overhead.”

She said the library needs to do a better job of educating the public about what the system offers before floating another bond measure.

“People don’t realize that libraries are much more than books on a shelf,” she said.

You can reach Staff Writer Derek Moore at 521-5336 or derek.moore@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @deadlinederek.

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