Independent Budget Analysis of Library Closures Raises Additional Concerns

by on November 17, 2008 · 0 comments

in Economy, Education, Ocean Beach, Organizing, San Diego

The following excerpt – recommending actions regarding library and rec center closures – is from the OFFICE OF THE INDEPENDENT BUDGET ANALYST REPORT, with Patty’s highlighted points in red.


A. Library and Recreation Center Closures.

As core City services, long-term or permanent closures of branch libraries and recreation centers warrant a public discussion with the City Council regarding how specific facilities have been chosen for closure; future plans for the facilities; potential impacts on the neighborhood; and plans for community notification. The proposed closures of seven libraries were originally announced as temporary through FY 2010 or “when funding becomes available.” When the Five-Year Financial Outlook was presented last week the branch libraries and recreation centers were presented as cuts through at least FY 2014. Realistically, with the Outlook showing significant deficits in each of the five years after all corrective actions, the proposed temporary closures are at best long-term and at worst permanent.

We have pursued options for reducing both branch library hours and recreation center hours in lieu of closures. Reducing hours is a common, long-term, operational cost saving strategy when faced with budget shortfalls. However, a reduction of hours, at least for full substitution of the closures, has been rejected by both the Library Director and the Park and Recreation Director citing implementation difficulties, negative impact on operations, significant diminution of services and inability to achieve savings equal to the proposed closures. Memos are forthcoming from the Directors on this matter.

Given the significant deficits the City is facing in future years and the likelihood of greater cuts to come, we are recommending a comprehensive facility plan addressing proposed closures along with proposed openings be brought to Council by February 2009 in order to prepare for the future. This will allow the new Council members to be involved in major service delivery decisions which bear long-term impacts on their districts.

Based on projected deficits and future calls for additional departmental cuts, this plan should identify phased closures over a period of several fiscal years based on a range of factors including geographic dispersion; proximity to other facilities; community usage; access to transportation; usage by schools and other groups. Planned building upgrades and maintenance expenses should be reviewed and reconsidered where possible to avoid unnecessary expenditures in light of pending closures. Reducing hours at some facilities should be reevaluated along with closures to determine if this could help minimize closures in the future.

Library closures or consolidations should be evaluated with respect to new facilities under construction or planned for the future. City Council, Board of Library Commissioners, the Library Foundation and community input should be solicited in the development of this plan. The plan should address potential future uses of the buildings and related property, including potential revenue from their sale or lease; issues of public safety and blight; costs for ongoing maintenance of the closed facilities; and a plan for advance notification to the community.

We are offering two options for Council consideration with respect to this specific issue:
Option 1: Defer a decision on Library branch and Recreation Center closures until a multi-year, comprehensive facility plan is brought forward to the City Council. This is our preferred option.

Request that this plan be provided to Council for public discussion by February 1, 2009 for implementation no later than July 1, 2009, sooner if possible in order to achieve greater savings. (Cost impacts of a 3-6 month deferral can be offset by FY 2009 savings from the Reservoir Recreation BPR and the Transient Occupancy Tax surplus.)

Option 2: Support moving forward now with the closures proposed for FY 2009 but request a comprehensive facility plan be brought forward to the City Council, as discussed above, and prior to any closure decisions being made for FY 2010.

As we have inquired further regarding the proposed closures, a number of issues have surfaced that need further clarification as a part of this plan:

  • A new North University Library was opened in 2007, 2.33 miles away from University Community Library which is now on the closure list. This closure appears to be logical in light of the new facility. But if it was considered a replacement library, why was it not closed at the time the new library opened or made clear to the community that this library was planned to be replaced? What is the City’s approach with respect to old libraries when they are in the vicinity of new libraries, and how is it communicated to the public?
  • Also, the University Community Library, proposed for closure, is also proposed for expansion in the City’s Library Facilities Improvement Program. It has gone from being a facility identified for expansion in 2002 to being at the top of the list for closure.
  • The same is true for the Ocean Beach Library, which is on both the proposed closure list and the proposed expansion list. In 2005, the City purchased land adjacent to the Ocean Beach Library for this expansion. According to Council reports at the time, this property is collateral for a HUD Section 108 loan of $2.0 million garnered for the Ocean Beach Library. Loan payments are approximately $223,000 annually through FY 2017 and are being paid from District 2 CDBG allocations. What are the plans for the property purchased for this expansion and are there restrictions on the property?
  • A new Logan Heights Library of 25,000 square feet is under construction and is scheduled to open in Fall 2009. This library is to replace the current 3,967 square foot library but the old library is not one of the seven proposed for closure. Are the closure costs for old Logan Heights already assumed in the budget? How is the City going to be able to provide adequate staffing when a 4,000 square foot library is replaced with a 25,000 square foot library?
  • Five new branch libraries are in various planning stages. Each of them is 3-6 times larger than their existing replacement facility. How will the City be able to staff these facilities – through additional closures?
Library Facility Improvement Projects
New Branch Libraries to be Built
# Loaction Replacement Old Sq Ft New Sq Ft Status of Project
1 Balboa Yes 5,092 16,250 Old library to be demolished
2 Mission Hills/Hillcrest Yes 3,850 25,000 City has purchased site
3 North Park Yes 8,000 25,000 Looking at sites
4 Paradise Hills Yes 3,875 15,000 No site or funding yet
5 San Ysidro Yes 4,089 15,000 Site has been selected
  • If we are facing closure of seven of 35 branch libraries and nine of 52 recreation centers with the current $31.0 million deficit, what does this mean for FY 2010 with a reduction in hours not being an option? What is the plan for moving forward – are seven more branch library closures being proposed in a few months? FY 2009 and FY 2010 library and recreation center decisions should be made as a package, and a phased plan should be brought forward that could be put into place for FY 2011 as well.
  • The Library Facilities Improvement Program was approved in 2002 but has not been updated since. Projects have not been reevaluated or reprioritized with an eye towards the City’s operating budget capacity. Projects have been delayed due to lack of capital funding so the focus has been on pursuing those where grants or developer money has been received. At the same time, the issue related to operating costs has not been reconsidered in light of the City’s ongoing budget challenges.
  • When the Program was developed in 2002, operating costs for all new facilities were fully identified. The Library Ordinance, requiring that a set level of General Funds be dedicated to libraries each year, was put into place that same year to secure a source of funding for these newly identified operating costs. However, as pressure came to bear on the General Fund, the Library Ordinance has been waived since 2004, to free up funds for other priority areas. In the meantime, the City’s Library program has not been revised and community expectations have not been revisited. Library closure has put the importance of this issue into focus.
  • A comprehensive plan will allow the City and the community to look at this issue from a big picture perspective rather than in a piecemeal fashion. It will allow for a discussion of other possible efficiencies and operational issues, such as the possibility for regional consolidation of facilities, which could yield even more significant savings as well as provide notice to the community of what is to come if the budget situation continues as predicted. We recommend that under either option that such a plan be developed and a full policy discussion be held with the City Council in early 2009.

B. Explore options with the Mayor for the future use of the Library System Improvement Program Fund.

As part of the Library Facilities Improvement Program, a separate fund was established to provide for lease payments related to debt issuances, for project costs, and project management costs. As the City has not initiated debt issuances for library improvements, the program has not been fully implemented. However, funding for projects and related costs have been funded from the Library System Improvement Program Fund (102216). Cost increases for branch projects that have been able to move forward have utilized this funding source. At present, cash on hand exceeds $8.5 million, with current encumbrances of $3.2 million, leaving available funds of $5.3 million. While the needs of the many branch library projects exceed this amount, consideration could be given to accessing these funds to continue library services, while a comprehensive plan is developed.

Thanks, Suzi, for the heads up!

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