County leaders agreed Tuesday to move forward with a reorganization of the Inyo County Library system and Museum Services Department, with the caveat that things can change if the new system doesn’t work out.
The board voted unanimously to allow the Library to hire a new, part-time employee. The Eastern California Museum’s current part-time employee will now split time between the Museum and the Library (though, an exact schedule of when the employee will be working at each department has not been identified).
“We want to come up with a comprehensive schedule for both,” said Deputy County Administrator Pam Hennarty. “There are conflicting days of need.”
The board’s move will provide a savings of $71,000 for the county. Hennarty said that the board’s decision is not a cut to the Library, but a re-organization. “Nobody’s leaving their jobs, we’re not cutting,” Hennarty said. “It’s The board’s decision flies in the face of wishes expressed by the public, who said there have been significant cuts in recent years and recommended that the Library and Museum maintain separate staff.
Pastor Erin McPhee said that she is concerned about the impact the board’s decision will have on low-income residents and visitors to the area who use the libraries for work, school and to simply keep in touch with friends, family and work while visiting the area.
“The libraries have already given a significant percent of their budget the last few years. There are other areas for cuts with less impact,” McPhee said. “Please do not take more from our libraries.”
Independence resident Rose Masters, the daughter of Librarian Nancy Masters and a longtime library volunteer, expounded on past cuts to the library, pointing out that there was a 27 percent reduction to the library’s expenses last budget year. She added that, in an effort to conserve funds, the library system has cut its staff by half, maintaining services in the Bishop branch with part-time, temporary employees.
“Any further cuts to the library would be ludicrous, and also harmful,” Masters said, adding that it would also be an “act of censorship” of the people. “The library has already done its share to balance the budget.”
Second District Supervisor Jeff Griffiths – and later County Administrative Officer Kevin Carunchio – responded, saying that the library budget had been cut by 7 percent, not 27 percent.
The Inyo County Board of Supervisors did vote last August to reduce the library staff’s salary and benefits package by 30 percent. All told, the 2012-13 budget for the Inyo County Library was $649,477. The recommended budget for 2013-14 was $493,763. That’s a 24 percent reduction total.
Masters attempted to respond to the discrepancy in the numbers, but Third District Supervisor and Board Chair Rick Pucci did not allow it, saying it was not the time for public comment. Masters was provided with a second opportunity to address the board later in the meeting, but Pucci asked her not to start a “debate.”
During her second stint before the board on Tuesday, Masters explained that the issue is not about keeping the library doors open, but about keeping enough staff in the department to run the various branches of the Library. “It’s hard to use volunteers if you don’t have staff to take care of them,” Masters said.
Independence resident Mary Roper, Librarian Nancy Masters’ sister, asked the board to table the discussion and volunteer for a day at the library to see the kind of work staff and other volunteers do before approving any changes to the department. She also asked that the county librarian and museum services director be given an opportunity to address the board.
Those requests were ignored, but Fourth District Supervisor Mark Tillemans and Griffiths did request a workshop to update the board on the progress the county library has made towards automation, and on the efforts of the various Friends of the Library organizations.
First District Supervisor Linda Arcularius said she is still in favor of eliminating one management position and consolidating the library and museum departments under one manager, which was recommended by Hennarty and Carunchio last month.
“This isn’t a value judgement on the library or museum. It’s about what we can afford,” Arcularius said. “My district travels 40 miles to go to the library. Years ago I chose to close the Rovana Library. I understand that they’re important … We’re not talking about closing the libraries … We don’t have the luxury of having specific jobs with specific job duties … I was raised in Tonopah and I don’t know if it even has a library* and it doesn’t make me less of a person.”
Pucci said he supports the libraries, but tough decisions must be made. “Next week it’s public safety,” Pucci said, referring to a workshop scheduled to discuss the Public Safety budget. “These are not value judgements. I’m committed to libraries. We have one pot of money basically. The question is, ‘What can you do to keep them alive and viable?’ It’s not going to be 100 percent popular … If we can do it better, let us know.”
Another speaker, Richard Rynne, said the county can do better. “Sometimes you’re expected to do a little more,” he told the board. Rynne recommended that the board look at what other counties are doing to balance their budgets and compete with them to do better. He also said that government grant funding could help the libraries, and suggested that a tax increase may be in order.
Tonopah does have a library.