Residents in Loomis are gearing up for a fight as Placer County seeks to close the town’s library – a key gathering spot for the community – in an effort to reduce costs after several years of budget deficits.
Library services director Mary George announced plans this month to close the Loomis branch, two months after she reduced hours at other branches and recommended closure of the Meadow Vista location.
In all, the county is projected to save between $200,000 and $400,000 annually with the two branch closures. No workers will be laid off.
“We’ve been using our savings to shore up the deficit since 2008,” George said. “Every year, we’ve been drawing $200,000 to $300,000.”
The library system is primarily funded by property tax revenue. Like other jurisdictions, Placer took a hit during the recession as home sales and values declined.
“Property tax revenues are just not coming back fast enough,” George said.
The proposed closure has surprised some in the tight-knit community. The town of nearly 7,000 people has had library services since 1910, when two residents started a lending library.
“Nobody saw this coming,” said Jan Chimera, secretary for the Friends of the Loomis Library. “We don’t understand why Loomis was targeted.”
The branch is situated off Horse Shoe Bar Road, not far from the Raley’s supermarket and downtown Loomis. Community leaders say the building is more than just a library – it is a gathering point for residents and schoolchildren.
“A small town is like a big family,” Chimera said. “The library is our core.”
The community doesn’t appear to be giving up without a fight. About 300 people packed the Town Council meeting on Tuesday to protest the county’s plans, and the Friends organization has circulated a petition with more than 2,000 signatures.
As library services director, George can only make recommendations on closures. The Board of Supervisors will ultimately vote on the issue and is expected to hear arguments at its April 7 meeting.
The library’s budget woes were the result of a perfect storm of falling revenue and rising expenses, George said, pointing to increased costs for staffing and transportation.
In fiscal year 2008-09, the library employed 48 workers at a cost of $3,590,090, according to data provided by the county. This year, the number of full-time employees was down to 37 positions, who were paid $3,817,749 in salaries and benefits. Likewise, the materials budget plummeted from $412,000 in 2008-09 to $287,767 this year.
The budget for 2014-15 is projected at $6 million, slightly less than $6.1 million in 2008-09, and has remained relatively stagnant for the last few years.
Libraries in Lincoln and Roseville have not been affected by the cuts because the cities run their own branches. The county system serves more than half a million patrons.
Loomis Town Council member Miguel Ucovich criticized the county, calling the proposal a case of “nickel-and-diming.”
“The citizens of Loomis aren’t asking for anything additional,” he said. “We’re just asking to maintain the library.”
Ucovich said town officials were weighing options to keep the branch open.
George believes the closures will allow the county to consolidate its resources with expanded hours and materials at larger branches. County officials noted that Loomis residents are only a 10-minute drive away from the Rocklin branch, and Meadow Vista isn’t far from Auburn.
Loomis resident Shawna Bryant understands the county’s predicament. But she worries about the senior citizens and schoolchildren who frequent the library for high-speed Internet.
“Internet isn’t easily accessible in our rural community,” Bryant said, noting that several neighbors can only subscribe to a slower satellite connection at home.
Supervisor Jim Holmes, who represents Loomis, said he is working on solutions to keep the branch open but questions whether tapping reserves is sustainable.
One idea he has floated would be to keep the library as a community center, since the county owns the building.
“If you have 5 acres of peaches and only have enough water for 3 acres, you want to put the water to its best use,” Holmes said.
Call The Bee’s Richard Chang at (916) 321-1018. Follow him on Twitter @RichardYChang.