Local News

Tuesday, Aug 27 2013 02:53 PM

County libraries to be open an additional day

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Twenty-nine year-old Domingo Benitez is just one of the many Kern County residents who will benefit from the libraries being open an additional day.

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Thanks to additional funding from the Board of Supervisors, those who use Kern County libraries, like 28-year-old David Jones, will have one more day a week to make their reading decisions.

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Gloria Washington, librarian at the Beale Library, returns a book to its proper place on the shelf. Thanks to additional funding from the Board of Supervisors, Kern County libraries will be open one more day a week.

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Gloria Washington, librarian at the Beale Library, glances up as she returns a book to its place in the teen area.

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BY JAMES BURGER Californian staff writer jburger@bakersfield.com

It was a good day for Kern County libraries.

Each of Kern's 26 branches will be open an additional day thanks to $514,600 in additional funding the Kern County Board of Supervisors set aside Tuesday when it approved the county's 2013-2014 budget.

Library Director Sherry Gomez was reserved and in control of her emotions until Supervisor Mike Maggard asked her the value of the extra money.

"I feel very strongly about library service and the impact it can make on people and quality of life," Gomez said, her voice breaking. "Over the years, because of the reduction in revenues, the libraries and branches have been reduced in hours."

Supervisors had initially discussed expanding hours at only the 10 libraries with the highest circulation, at a price tag of $360,000. But Supervisor David Couch said that would open the board up to criticism from rural communities that county leaders are only concerned about funding Bakersfield libraries.

So the supervisors added another $154,600 to keep all county libraries open an extra day. That extra day hasn't been determined for each branch.

Some libraries are open just one or two days a week.

Gomez said the move will be a huge benefit to low-income rural and urban residents who rely on their neighborhood library for internet access, educational materials and a safe place to learn.

She hadn't asked for the money. Requests from groups that support the libraries in Ridgecrest and on Baker Street in Bakersfield got the board thinking.

Supervisors thanked Gomez for her work.

"When we started today, I thought I might make Jeff Frapwell cry," Maggard said, referring to a grilling the board gave the General Services director on a different project. "I didn't think we'd make anybody else cry."

"Supervisors, let me assure you, these are tears of happiness," Gomez said as she dabbed at her eyes.

Beale Memorial Library patrons cheered the change Tuesday afternoon.

Fred Veloz was there because it was open. The Eleanor Wilson Branch library is closer to his home near Hosking Avenue.

"But that one is always closed," he said.

He was helping Aubrey Veloz pick out a couple children's books to take home.

"She reads them at school and then we have to come get them," he said.

Her favorite this day?

"Pete the Cat," she enthused, holding up the book so a reporter could see the bright cover art.

Reggie Turner was using the public computers while his sons studied. The extra day is a great deal for children, he said.

"It's better to have it open more," Turner said. "You give kids the opportunity to learn more. There's only 24 hours in a day."

ART FUNDING

Supervisors also set aside an additional $35,000 for the Arts Council of Kern -- which got a total of $100,000 and $20,000 for the Bakersfield Museum of Art, which ended up with a total of $50,000.

They gave the Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired $47,450.

The board came up with the additional funding for libraries and nonprofits by reducing from $2 million to $1.4 million the amount it planned to put into county reserves.

They refused, however, to fund the $3 million shortfall between the budgeted funds for a new county information technology building and the bid from builder S.C. Anderson.

"The cost of this building is a result of our design," Maggard told Frapwell as he presented the project. "Had we designed the building differently, we wouldn't have this cost overrun."

The board told Frapwell to look for more ways to save on the construction and set aside an additional $617,000 in a reserve that, if it decided to fund the building later, could help pay for any extra costs.

"I believe the building is over-designed," said Supervisor Mick Gleason.

CHALLENGES

While the extra money for community arts and libraries were bright points in the county's budget picture, officials laid out a laundry list of dark clouds that loom.

At the top of the list was Kern Medical Center's cash-flow challenges.

The county had to write off $9 million the hospital owed the county general fund and another $9 million that have been ruled "non-spendable," meaning KMC is not expected to receive the money this fiscal year and so the county can't spend it.

In addition, the county's contribution to its pension system is expected to increase by $21.6 million next fiscal year and it will lose $3.5 million in grant funding for one firefighter in each of the county's rural fire stations.

The county is also planning to borrow $60 million to fund its share of the Thomas Roads Improvement Program; preparing to build a new section of Lerdo Jail; and faces reductions in sales taxes as wind energy construction and road building slow down.

Also, the county must begin spending $25 million a year in 2016-2017 to staff the new jail beds at Lerdo.

Nancy Lawson, the assistant county administrative officer for budget and finance, said the 2013-14 budget is stable, but the county isn't sure where the money to cover its future obligations is going to come from.

The 2013-2014 budget totals $2.6 billion. That increases county spending by almost $70 million, or 2.6 percent over last year's budget, officials said.

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