Facing an estimated $1 million shortfall, library officials Wednesday presented their board of trustees with a restructuring plan that calls for laying off between 11 and 13 employees and centralizing teen-service librarians in the main branch.
If approved by the board and the City Council, the library, which has 157 full and part-time employees, would be the only city department to suffer layoffs.
“There’s no realistic way to cut $1 million from a $13 million budget without letting people go,” Library Director Jackie Griffin said.
The cuts would take effect July 1.
Griffin attributed the library’s deficit to soaring pension contributions that this year are estimated to cost 21 percent of each employee’s salary. To plug a $600,000 deficit last year, when pension contributions amounted to 11.3 percent of salaries, the library closed its doors on Sundays and reduced hours during the week.
High pension rates, caused by new union contracts and consecutive years of poor stock returns for the state retirement fund, have also plunged the city into a deficit. While Berkeley has been promised a state refund from vehicle license fees in two years to help balance its budget, Griffin said the library has no recourse this year other than to cut workers.
“We live and die on the tax and right now we’re dying on it,” Griffin said.
In November voters defeated an 18 percent library tax hike that would have restored hours and prevented layoffs. Griffin said the proposal presented Wednesday should keep the library’s budget balanced through 2008—the next year she would consider asking residents for a tax hike.
Currently the library receives no city funding outside the library tax, although if it chose to, the city could allocate money to cover the library’s shortfall.
Librarians and union officials faulted the director for not allowing more employee input to the plan and targeting primarily lower-level positions for elimination.
“This was done pretty much in isolation,” said Claudia Morrow, a children’s librarian. “That’s not the way the library used to operate.”
Morrow, who said her job is secure, said many librarians were taken aback at the reality of losing the ballot initiative and now facing layoffs.
“It’s been a rude awakening for us,” she said. “We’ve had such incredible support from the community in the past.”
Anes Lewis-Partridge, field director for SEIU, Local 535, which represents Berkeley library workers, charged that Griffin had added a managerial position in the midst of cutting workers and dismissed the union’s offer to take voluntary time off and reduce work schedules to save jobs.
Griffin insisted that new managerial classifications didn’t represent new spending because they were converted from discontinued positions, and that neither cost saving measure the union proposed would affect the library’s bottom line enough money to spare jobs. She added that reducing the work week from 40 hours to 37.5 hours, as the union proposed, could hamper the library’s ability to hire new personnel.
The restructuring plan calls for eliminating positions held by 31 employees, replacing them with 22 new positions, most of which will be filled by current staff now holding the eliminated positions.
Lower ranking library aides and library assistants would account for about two-thirds of the cuts. Griffin said those job classifications, which perform mainly clerical duties, will be less useful as the library this summer completes installing Radio Frequency Tracking Devices (RFIDs) on its materials.
The devices, which cost the library $650,000, are anticipated to boost self-check-out rates from 15 percent to around 90 percent. Griffin also hopes the technology will cut down on workers’ compensation claims, mostly for repetitive motion injuries that she said have cost the city $1 million over the past five years.
“We need a workforce that can be more flexible and serve people in different ways,” Griffin said.
The library is proposing to use money from salary savings to train lower level employees in house for new positions. However, Griffin added that the library has not determined how it would chose which employees facing layoffs will be selected to receive the training.
If the trustees and council adopt the plan, the Claremont Branch would lose roughly one position, the West Branch would roughly three positions, because of changes to its literacy program, the South Branch would lose one position and the North Branch would lose roughly 2.5 positions.
Several Berkeley High students attended the meeting to voice their opposition to a proposal to lay off one teen-service librarian and shift the remaining three from local branches to the central library.
“It’s nice to know I can go to any library in the city and know there is a teen librarian there,” said Ariana Cortesi, a Berkeley High sophomore who participates in a teen play reading program at the north branch.
At the trustees’ request, the union is scheduled to present its proposals to save money at the next meeting on Jan. 26. Griffin has requested that the trustees approve the plan by March so that it can go before the City Council as part of the overall budget to be approved in June.
The library tax revenue for the coming year is unknown. The City Council can base the tax either on an increase to the Bay Area Consumer Price Index (CPI) or California Personal Income Growth. The city has asked the library to structure the budget assuming a 2 percent increase in the CPI. However in recent years the personal growth indicator has far outstripped CPI allowing the council to approve larger increases in the tax. Last year the library tax rose 13.9 percent.e