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Director questions library cuts

By Brian Knox | Published Saturday, October 6, 2018
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A 50 percent cut in funding from the city of Chico had the city’s library director asking the question “Why?” at Tuesday’s city council meeting.

Chico Public Library Director Michelle Slonaker told the council she had been notified by letter last week that the city’s budget included a $7,500 decrease from the $15,000 the city budgeted for the library last year. She said that a such a decrease could result in the library losing its accreditation, which would in turn make it no longer eligible to receive federal grants from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

“I understand the need to take a cut when the city is low on revenue, but I think it should be done in a more fair manner, and I think that expecting one department or one organization to be cut in half – we haven’t received that low an amount from the city since 2006,” Slonaker said. “… If we need to take a cut, I understand that. I can take one for the team if we need to, but I feel like 50 percent is excessive.”

When Slonaker asked what led to the council’s decision regarding the library’s budget cuts, council member Toby Sides said the city has an issue with WiFi internet access being available after library hours, often resulting in people parking in front of or behind the library. As a result, the city had to increase police patrol in the area.

“I’ve driven by myself, and I’ve seen three men out there in front of the library at 1 in the morning. So (the police) are having to go by there and check it out,” Sides said.

Council member Gary Fatheree told Slonaker the city had previously asked the library to shut off internet access at midnight but had not gotten a response from anyone on the library board.

“If you need the extra funding, go to your board, and let them fund it,” Fatheree said. “But if you and your board cannot work with the city and the city police – I’m sorry I’m being offensive – I voted that we cut (funding) in half. I was wanting to cut it altogether myself.”

Mayor Colleen Self asked if the $11,000 the county is sending local libraries and nonprofits as part of a one-time grant would help her. Slonaker responded that she found out about the city’s decrease in funding after she learned about the county’s grant.

“To me it looks kind of questionable to say the county is giving us an extra $11,000 so the library can have $7,500 taken off (their budget) and they’ll be OK. That’s kind of like saying, ‘We’re going to take our piece of that money,'” Slonaker said.

Self, who works for the office of County Judge J.D. Clark, said the decision to cut the city’s funding to the library was made before the county announced its plan to provide extra library funding.

Council Member Rick Boling said the library should be happy with the county’s contribution.

“With the money you got from the county, you are covered through next year,” he said. “We’ll just have to see in our next budget year how it is. I know that’s a hard case.”

Council member Cindy Barksdale suggested library board members attend a council meeting so the issue could be discussed.

“I would like for some of your board members to come to our meeting and explain about all the grants that you guys get,” she said.

When Fatheree asked if the library could be funded on grants alone, Slonaker explained that the foundations first look to see how well the community supports the library, including local funding.

She said that money that the city budgets for the library is used for matching grants.

“Every penny I get I leverage for more money,” she said. “Since 2004, the city has given us $169,000. We’ve matched that with more than $180,000 in grants.”

The council took no action on any budget amendments related to the library as the item was tabled.

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