Money and libraries have been mutually incompatible concepts in recent years, with reserve monies dwindling away to nothing, especially at small-branch libraries. These straits became especially painful last year, when the City of Santa Barbara, under its own monetary squeeze, declared during budget deliberations that it was getting out of the business of subsidizing branch libraries beyond city borders. Out of the storms that followed was a decision by Goleta to run its library separately and a decision by the County Board of Supervisors that Solvang and Buellton would join it. Those chickens are coming home to roost.
At a special meeting on Wednesday, the Goleta City Council pondered for two hours the relative merits of four possible ways to charge for library services that benefit the Buellton and Solvang branches. No method presented any savings to the branches, which have no financial reserves left. Library Director Allison Gray spoke to the fact that no economy of scale flows to Goleta from the additional libraries; rather, new expenses like sending out books have cropped up. And the sum to the branches is approximately what Santa Barbara would charge — roughly $50,000.
Goleta is a “general law” city and bound by state rules of municipal operation. One of those rules requires that Goleta taxpayer money remain in Goleta; in other words, it cannot pay another municipality’s library bill. As a city established by charter, Santa Barbara was able to pay for libraries in areas that became cities, which is how it eventually found itself in the role of subsidizing library branches. For Buellton and Solvang, any shortfall in their library budgets will have to be paid by the cities. Their respective City Councils will be deciding on library management and funding issues at upcoming meetings.
Goleta City Manager Michelle Greene said many conversations have been held between the three cities’ staffs regarding the administration charge and what is included in it, details that Santa Barbara had been unwilling or unable to articulate clearly, to its branch cities’ great frustration. Marc Bierdzinski, the city manager for Buellton, said they’d had much more transparency from Goleta’s staff.
One of those conversations took place on Wednesday, when Goleta’s attorney realized that a concept in the general law rules, that of “valuable consideration,” meant a service like library administration might mean an additional fee was required. Buellton and Solvang’s city managers were immediately apprised, earning high praise from Bierdzinski. Goleta’s council bounced around ideas of what might constitute “consideration,” perhaps an exchange other than money, but the final word remains with the various cities’ attorneys.
Buellton had paid $141,000 from its general fund for library services the previous year, Bierdzinski said, not counting maintenance on the building and grounds, which the city owns. The funds included $32,000 in library fees at the 13.5 percent admin rate compromise, and the actual cost was more like $53,000, he said. The first year of Goleta operation would include onetime start-up costs of $13,000 or so. Solvang put $161,000 toward library services, City Manager Brad Vidro said, with about $38,000 in administration fees last year.
Solvang actually has three libraries. The tiny ones in Los Olivos and Santa Ynez are called “twigs,” they’re so small, explained volunteer Olivia Flisher. Built in 1912, Santa Ynez was the first to be built in California specifically as a branch library. The residents had held a subscription dance to buy the lumber, she said, and the town built the library, which occupies a corner of the Historical Museum property. Los Olivos’s is in the Grange building. The twigs are open only on Saturday, Los Olivos in the morning and Santa Ynez in the afternoon, and each is entirely staffed by volunteers. If and when they transfer to Goleta management, the monumental task of changing bar codes will be no problem for the “Twiggies,” Flisher reassured.