Over the past year, schools, parks and public safety agencies have faced uncertainty in light of dwindling tax revenues. Now local libraries are on the chopping block and residents are more than a little upset about it.
The Sonoma County Library has begun union negotiations, proposing staff cutbacks and reductions of library hours throughout the county, with a goal of saving $250,000 in the 2011-2012 fiscal year.
In a position paper released earlier last month, library management proposed cutting regional branch hours back to 40 hours per week, and cutting public service substitute positions, effective July 31.
At the Rohnert Park-Cotati Regional Library, hours would be slashed two hours on Tuesday, opening at noon instead of 10 a.m., two hours on Wednesday, closing at 6 p.m. instead of 8 p.m. and closed completely on Mondays. Other regional branches are exploring thier own versions of 12-hour cuts.
"The cuts are proposed to be in place by July 31," said Nancy Kleban, branch manager for the Cotati-Rohnert Park branch. "It's clear that we need to cut back hours, but we'd like to do it in a way that best provides for the public's needs."
Monday afternoon, Kleban had a stack of flyers ready to hand out to those people concerned about the cuts.
"Do these days and hours work with your library schedule? Do you want the library open when you need it?" the flyer read. "The planned schedule means that the libraries will only be open three mornings a week, two nights a week and closed on Mondays."
Kleban said between 20,000 an 25,000 residents use the library in Rohnert Park each month. And, with summer coming and school letting out, it's about to get busier.
"We're a busy branch, and we have a great summer reading program," Kleban said.
Since 2009, the Sonoma County Library system has lost over $1.5 million in revenues and Commissioners estimate that state funding cuts and reduced property taxes will slash over $600,000 from the 2012 budget.
But, acourding to county administrators, the cutbacks are subject to several rounds of union negotiations, and the details are not yet set in stone.
"We've presented a proposal to the union, so the ball is in their court and there's no discussion items on Monday's [Library Commission Meeting] agenda," said Sandra Cooper, Director of the Sonoma County Library.
Responding to rumors that the cutbacks are scheduled for a vote in Monday's meeting, Cooper sent an email Friday morning to all library staff clarifying the long negotiation process ahead.
"The next steps will depend on what alternatives the Union wishes to offer as viable ways to close the $1.05 million gap," Cooper wrote.
"The change in work schedule is subject to the opportunity to bargain over the decision," added Kelly Tuffo, the Sonoma County Library Commission's negotiator.
"We're all expressing our opinions," Kleban said.
Though the details are not set in stone, local libraries will most certainly see cutbacks of some kind, as administrators struggle to balance the budget.
"It's confussing because [the proposed cutbacks] are only a small piece of what the commission will be developing to try and close the operating deficit of $1.05 million" Cooper said. "At some point we just can't ask the staff to keep working without the resources - they've been urging some sort of reduction in service hours because the workload has gotten so crazy."
Library patrons, especially parents, are bracing themselves for the loss of morning hours, which many spend attending reading groups with their pre-schoolers.
"This is definitely going to impact me," siad Harry Marcellus, 38, a Rohnert Park father of two. "Me and my children, my dad and my girlfriend all depend on the library becuase we don't have internet at home."
"I'm not working right now, so it's my only resource to look for a job," Marcellus added. "This is a big part of our everyday life."
Melissa Jarrell, also a resident of Rohnert Park, said she understands why the library has to cut hours.
"We're all cutting back in a lot of ways right now, I can understand why they have to do it," Jarrell said."It's the state, federal and local government."
Jonne Alderson, of Rohnert Park, said the issue was double-sided.
"You know, I understand the crisis, but the library is so important; reading is so important" she said. "It's a shame."
“It seems like there would be some other way they could cut costs without reducing the hours,” said Megan Morrone, a Petaluma mother of three, who said she came to the library nearly every day. “At our house, we like to have books coming and going and it's easy to reserve them online, then pick them up as I run my errands."
Doug Cisney, the Petaluma Library branch manager, said the reduced hours would mean that more employees would be available when the library was open. But still, he admitted, the proposal was hard to swallow, for both the community and library staff.
"You regret doing this because everybody needs the library," Cisney said. "But with the budget issues everyone is faacing, there's no choice."
He added that the library would try to save as many of the children's programs as possible.
Jenna Scott, who's studying at Sonoma State to be a teacher, said she disagrees with the cuts.
"It's importnat for kids to spend hours at the library reading and doing homework, and for those who need access to it to have it," she said.
The library commission is scheduled to meet Monday, April 4, but the revised hours and layoffs are not on the agenda. The 7 p.m. meeting is open to the public and will be held at the Central Library in Santa Rosa, at 211 E St.