"Drip, drip, drip," said Goleta's Michael Bennett, mimicking the trickle of information the councilmember's city has had to contend with as it tried to understand the fees it paid to the City of Santa Barbara for library management and services. That trickle, however, likely represents Santa Barbara's attempts to define charges that originated "in the mists of time," as city finance director Bob Samario has described them. But Goleta's continuing frustration — and staff calculations that it could manage its library for less — resulted in a unanimous council vote Tuesday night, to applause in the chamber, to officially secede from Santa Barbara control.
The council was urged forward by Corinne Horowitz, president of the Friends of the Goleta Valley Library. She stated that Santa Barbara's "autocratic" Central Library hired and fired without consulting the branches and changed open hours unilaterally. For the Friends, a volunteer fundraising group, the inability to add more than 10 new books a month was galling, as well as the knowledge that any gift was subject to an administration fee, set this year at 13.5 percent. "We donated $10,000 for nonfiction books for the children's collection in January," said Horowitz. "Over $1,000 of this went into a management fee instead of books."
Taking control of its own library finances is very likely the only way Goleta will ever understand the costs. Goleta came out ahead by forming its own Zone 4 library system under almost every scenario presented. Whether it was 9 percent, 13.5 percent, 18 percent, 21.14 percent, or an eventual 34 percent that Santa Barbara charged as an administrative fee, it also charged "allocated costs" in order to be compensated for its work on the branch's behalf. By keeping track of its own salaries, benefits, and expenses, Goleta would save 11 percent in its total operating costs. In terms of paying employee benefits, costs are 7 percent lower as Goleta is a new city with much smaller pension liabilities than Santa Barbara.
The bottom line for the city's General Fund is $220,331, a 35 percent contribution toward the new library's first year, which is anticipated to start July 1, 2018. Community Service Area 3 funds that form a third of its revenues increased in another council vote. This year, as allowed under Measure L, the amount was raised based on the Consumer Price Index, 1.9 percent in 2016. The result is that parcels ranging from single-family homes to apartments and commercial will fund the library by $455,523.70.
Bennett was ready to make the motion to separate at the conclusion of public comment, and Councilmember Roger Aceves was ready to second. But concerning the two city councilmembers who happen to be professional budget analysts, Kyle Richards and Stuart Kasdin, was whether all the costs of running a library had been included. Richards asked how administering 22 or 26 new library employees, who would add another third to the 65 existing city staffers, didn't require more than 3.6 hours. An answer came from City Manager Michelle Greene, who said Human Resources and Finance were sharing a management assistant who could take on the extra duties. All agreed the numbers were at times "a wild guess."
Richards mentioned the 2015 consultant report Goleta had commissioned, in which California State Library gave $62 as the amount spent per person among similarly sized cities. Goleta spends $16. "What we're doing here seems to save money, but you can only squeeze it so tight," said Richards. "The library is underfunded, no matter how we look at it."
A major piece of the funding puzzle is the county's per capita payment. In a recipe that dates to 1959, the county has assigned to Goleta areas north of Foothill/Cathedral Oaks and between Santa Barbara and Goleta cities. Rejiggerings of the boundaries led to variations that include or exclude Hope Ranch, Mission Canyon, Foothill, Community Service Area (CSA) 3, Gaviota, Isla Vista, and Goleta. At its largest, the area was 98,645 people; at its smallest the number was 62,680 — only Goleta and CSA 3. The council decided to discuss with the county a mid-range of 94,545, which would include Hope Ranch, Gaviota, and Isla Vista. To help convince the county of its serious service intent, the council proposed a bookmobile to serve Isla Vista and Old Town.
To get to a July 1, 2018, transfer date, Goleta must not only negotiate service boundaries with the county but also get agreement from Santa Barbara, apply to the California State Library, and become a member of the Black Gold system. Goleta's patrons are voracious readers, according to the staff report, and they order a lot of books from Black Gold. Membership will cost Goleta $140,000 with about a 5 percent annual increase.
A new wrinkle is the requirement of a Library Board. Consisting of five members appointed by Goleta's mayor with concurrence by its city council, three must be city residents and two live in the county portion of CSA 3, which was established to fund Goleta library before the city formed. The council voted to allow the county to suggest members and to agree to appoint them.
With other deadlines pending, no time remains to wait for the county consultant report on library funding, organization, and other issues, which won't be finished until January 2018 at the earliest. The uncertainty that the consultant could recommend drastic changes to the per capita amount — advising it go to zero, for instance — was a risk, said Mayor Paula Perotte, who sits on the library committee. "I'm not so much worried about expenses as I am about revenues," she said. "Some counties don't pay any per capita," a model the consultant could recommend under county control.
Aceves recommended a leap of faith: "Until we start shaking things down, the real numbers won't come out. The bottom line is, do we want to run our own library or not?" he asked. "Let's take a leap of faith. We'll do it all together."