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L.A. County library system in financial trouble; commissioners seek tax increase

December 1, 2010 |  7:30 am

Click to visit L.A. County's library website  Click here for a link to a map of the Los Angeles County library system. Source: L.A. County Public LibraryThe Los Angeles County library system is in financial trouble and cannot sustain its level of services over the next decade, according to a report delivered Tuesday to the Board of Supervisors.

But the Library Commission’s chief recommendation –- asking voters served by the county library system to increase an existing special tax –- appeared to leave the supervisors unenthusiastic. Supervisors received the report but did not discuss the recommendation.

The report illustrates a darkening financial outlook for nation’s largest public library system, which serves 3.7 million people, including 51 of the 88 cities in L.A. County and most unincorporated communities. Without increasing the special tax, the library system could be forced to make deep cuts in service hours and other programs, such as children’s services, homework help and gang prevention programs.

 “The Library Commission strongly opposes that model because it would have a significant impact on service delivery,” the report said.

The county library system has an annual budget of $109.7 million but faces an annual structural deficit for the next decade of $22 million a year.

The main financial problems are a result of declining contributions from the county’s General Fund and falling property values, which are curtailing tax revenue, according to the report.

The commissioners are calling for a revamp of the special tax levy that was established in 1997 and now charges $27.84 per parcel, regardless of size, every year. The tax currently is charged to most unincorporated areas and 11 of the 51 cities served by the county library system, which receive expanded public service hours over cities that chose not to levy the special tax.

Commissioners recommended that the special tax rate be increased and expanded to include all areas served by the county library system. Doing so could generate an additional $12 million to $23 million every year over the next decade.

The report said polling showed that the library had probable voter support to garner the required two-thirds vote for a special tax.

The report said the library system has taken cost-cutting measures, such as renegotiating contracts with book and software vendors and cutting back on part-time staff. But the financial situation has been hampered by rising costs for books and other technology and equipment, as well as higher costs for personnel.

“Curtailment measures in recent years helped to balance the budget. However, with few alternatives for cost reductions remaining, the Public Library will have to redesign its service models,” the report said.

The report illustrates the gap between revenue and expenses: Between the 1997-98 and 2009-10 fiscal years, the special parcel tax rate increased an average of 2% a year, while the California consumer price index increased an average of 3% a year and library expenses increased an average of 10% a year.

The county library system operates more than 80 libraries and four bookmobiles.

RELATED:

Map of Los Angeles County libraries

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-- Rong-Gong Lin II at the Los Angeles County Hall of Administration

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