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Letter to the Editor: County being disingenuous about severity of library cuts

July 2, 2014

I am concerned about misinformation and misleading information being circulated by county officials.
But first, I want you to know upfront that I am the daughter of the Library Director. If this fact makes you doubt my words, then I’d rather you know right away than realize it later. That said, as someone who feels strongly that the people’s access to free information is an absolute necessity of a healthy republic, my words and actions would be the same no matter my relation to the library.
At the Board of Supervisors meeting of July 1, I stated during public comment that the Inyo County Free Library budget for Fiscal Year 2014 (decided by the Board in August 2013) had been cut by 27 percent. I also said that the library had lost more than 50% of its staff in the past five years.
One board member corrected me, stating that he did not know where this 27 percent came from. The library, according to him (and later in the meeting, according the the County Administrative Officer), had been cut by 7 percent.
I’m always open to the option that I may have been wrong, so I spent the afternoon of July 1 reading the Budget Books and support documents. It turns out I was wrong. But so is the board, and so is the CAO. Here are the numbers, but I would like everyone to know that the county budget and supplements are public documents. You have the right to request these documents so you don’t have to take anyone’s word for it, mine included.
For the Fiscal Year ending June 30, 2013, the Board of Supervisors approved a library budget of $649,477. For the Fiscal Year ending June 30, 2014, the Board of Supervisors approved a library budget of $493,673. The difference between the two is $155,714, which amounts to a 24 percent cut of the total library budget.
However, since it is useless to speak of any department’s budget without considering the staff who actually run the department, it is instructive to look at the cuts made to the library personnel salaries and benefits. For the Fiscal Year ending June 30, 2013, the Board of Supervisors approved library salaries and benefits in the amount of $575,475. For the Fiscal Year ending June 30, 2014, the Board of Supervisors approved library salaries and benefits in the amount of $401,852. The difference between the two is $173,623, which amounts to a 30 percent cut of the library personnel salaries and benefits.
Furthermore, in the last five years the library has lost more than 50 percent of its staff. These workers have not been replaced.
As I looked through the FY 2013-2014 Budget Book, I did not find any other General Fund departments impacted in a way even remotely comparable to this level of cutting.
I am trying to understand this claim by the Board and CAO that the library was cut by only 7 percent last year. It seems that they must be comparing the Year To Date Actuals for FY2013 to the Board Approved library budget for FY 2014. What the YTD Actuals reflect is this: the Library managed to save money through frugality (like ordering used books instead of new books), but the Library also did not spend out its budget because staff retired and were not replaced. Basing a budget cut upon this number, then claiming the cut was only 7 percent, is the same as punishing a department for saving money and for losing staff.
This is important because the budget cuts to the Library have been cumulative over many years. (By the way, I refuse to use the misleading euphemism “money savings” instead of saying budget cuts, as the Deputy CAO and Board Members requested at the July 1 meeting.) The decision the Board made on July 1, 2014, which results in another significant cut to the Library, cannot equitably be considered by itself: this cut must be viewed together with the 24 percent surprise cut to the Library budget for FY 2013-2014, as well as with the unmitigated loss of 9 out of 16 staff members since 2008.
These numbers speak for themselves, so I’m not going to summarize with my thoughts. However, I do think it is important for all of us to ask: Why for years has the Library been taking the only massive budget cuts in the county?
If anyone does not have time to go request these budget documents, I would be happy to share them with you. Please feel free to email me at rosemary.star@gmail.com.
I also welcome any and all response to this letter, because I believe that public discourse among the people and with elected officials – especially at a Board of Supervisors meeting – is as essential a part of healthy government as is access to your Free Public Library.
Rose Masters
Independence

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