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Local libraries thrive despite woes

The county weighs the pros and cons of tax increases in order to maintain and enhance system services.

December 09, 2010

Despite anticipated budget shortfalls for the Los Angeles County library system of roughly $22 million a year during the next 10 years, its branches in La Cañada Flintridge and La Crescenta will be shielded from reduced hours or services in the coming years, the county's top librarian said.

The Glendale library system is not directly affected by the county's budget woes. But Glendale Director of Libraries Cindy Cleary said the issues have created a ripple effect.

"There are more people coming through our doors and seeking our services," Cleary said. "I'm not complaining, I like people coming through. But it is adding pressure."

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On Nov. 30, county librarian Margaret Donnellan Todd submitted a report to the Board of Supervisors warning that declining revenues could force cuts across the library system in order to avoid a deficit of as much as $22 million by 2020.

But branches in the foothills are not expected to face cuts because they benefit from a special tax assessment in place since 1997.

This year's special library tax for residents of unincorporated areas and 11 cities, including La Cañada Flintridge, is a flat $27.84 per land parcel. The La Crescenta branch also benefits from utility-tax funds, and in La Cañada, property-tax revenues are expected to remain strong despite nationwide declines in real-estate values.

"If you hear that the county libraries are falling apart, that's absolutely not true. We're taking a financial look 10 years down the road," Todd said. "We're primarily looking at some of the cities where there isn't a special tax, and property tax isn't high enough to support operations and we currently cover that [gap] with general-fund contributions."

While many of the 44 county branches — there are 85 in all — have actually increased hours of operation due to the extra revenue, the report predicts that those service enhancements may not be sustainable without a small increase to the parcel tax.

But Todd said more analysis is needed before the system would ask the Board of Supervisors for more money.

Now would be a bad time to ask for more money, said Tony Bell, a spokesman for L.A. County Supervisor Mike Antonovich.

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