The Berkeley Public Library is facing a budget deficit that could result in reduced hours of service, staffing cuts and outdated library resources.
Library officials are scrambling to avoid the cuts by asking City Council to increase the library parcel tax and consider putting a bond measure on the ballot in 2004.
Without additional taxes, the library will face a shortfall of nearly $2 million by fiscal year 2004-2005 — about 20 percent of its overall budget. Unless additional resources can be found, the shortfall would force Central Library to shave off nine service hours a week and would reduce hours at the four branches by 14 hours a week starting in September. The library already has implemented a hiring freeze for non-essential jobs.
In addition, starting in July, the materials budget, which updates books, CDs and videos, will be cut in half, according to library Director Jackie Griffin.
“As the budget stands right now, it’s like a puzzle,” she said. “How do you maintain materials and keep staff when you don’t have enough money to do either?”
Griffin has requested that City Council raise the Library Parcel Tax by 36 percent, which she said would eliminate the budget deficit and stabilize the library for many years to come.
“I think there are positives about it because in bad economic times, the library is used more than any other time,” Griffin said. “You can always go to the library to borrow a book or take out a video for your kids.”
The council has authority under the Library Relief Act of 1988 to increase the parcel tax according to either the Consumer Price Index or the Personal Income Growth Index. The council has, in the past, adjusted the parcel tax to meet the CPI, but never the Personal Income Growth Index, which would have amounted to 36 percent over the past 14 years.
Under such a parcel tax increase, an owner of a 1,600-square-foot house would pay $65 more in property taxes, according to the Berkeley library’s calculations.
According to Cisco DeVries, Mayor Tom Bates’ chief of staff, the mayor wants to help but is concerned a retroactive tax hike may be illegal.
City Councilmember Gordon Wozniack said whether or not the retroactive tax hike was permitted, he was uncomfortable with the idea.
“I find it a little like changing the score after the game is over,” he said.
According to Griffin, the other possibility is putting a bond measure on the ballot in 2004. However, she said it could hurt the library’s stock of books, CDs and videos, if that was the case.
“We couldn’t go back and buy all the materials we didn’t because of lack of money,” she said. “It would be like putting a Band-Aid over a hole that will exist forever.”
The council will consider the budget issues during its overall budget discussions and two scheduled public hearings that will take place in City Council Chambers prior to final approval of the city’s budget on July 30.