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Placer library checking out new ways to balance books

Library network expects to run a budget deficit and dip into reserves
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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AUBURN CA - More self-check-out machines, greater reliance on volunteers and a closer look at potential grants are some of the ways Placer County library is attempting to trim an expected deficit in the coming year. The 11-library system has been hit hard by the drop in property values in Placer County, which play an important role in the amount of property tax payments it receives for everything from book purchases to librarian salaries to new computers. The Placer County Board of Supervisors heard a report Tuesday from the County Executive Office library analyst Ronald Baker Sr. on the anticipated deficit in revenue the Library Services Department is facing and some of the ways it is dealing with the drop in funding. Baker reported that over the past three years, property-tax dollars have decreased 10.5 percent – or $421,000 annually. And property-tax revenue is projected to be flat for the coming 2012-13 fiscal year, Baker said. “The situation frankly hasn’t improved in the last year,” Baker said. “We have wonderful facilities that communities care deeply about.” Chairwoman Jennifer Montgomery said she considered libraries an important part of the community – not only in the traditional sense but also from a public-safety perspective. She asked library officials to come up with a five-year “vision,” with an emphasis on a prioritization of service levels. “Well-read children and adults tend to stay out of mischief,” Montgomery said. “We should ensure that we’re looking under every rock (for funding).” Mary George, director of library services, said she’s hoping strategic planning will lead the way to a firmer financial footing. “It’s clear the library faces tough economic challenges,” George told the board. But Baker warned that the road to more stable finances would be rocky. Adding to the weak financial outlook, the governor’s January budget doesn’t restore $84,000 in funding eliminated last year. “The bottom line is current revenues are unlikely to sustain current service levels,” Baker said. On the plus side, while revenues are decreasing, demand for library services is increasing. Baker said circulation has increased 5 percent this year and 20 percent since 2010, in both Rocklin and Colfax. But the materials budget has been slashed to off-set revenue reductions – going from $412,000 in 2008 to $165,000 proposed for the coming year. “Customers are beginning to question why the library is not continuing support of certain materials or purchasing enough copies to meet demand,” Baker said. “Electronic books are also very popular and expensive to fund. For a short while, the collection can go without necessary support, but then the erosion happens quickly as materials grow out of date and lose their appeal and relevancy.” Library strategies - Placer County library management has developed new strategies for reducing county costs, including: - Wider deployment of self-check machines, which reduce the need for staff - More strategic recruitment of volunteers - Greater reliance on Friends of Library groups for materials or facility improvements - Prudent use of library reserves for technology improvements and other efficiencies, which save staff dollars - Greater exploration of grant opportunities, including “friends” group grants Source: Placer County Executive Office