Library Hours Slated for Cuts While City Braces for Bankruptcy

The City of El Cerrito currently contracts with Contra Costa County Library for an additional 15 hours of library service, resulting in adequate hours for full-time staff to increase programs and accessibility to the community.    For detailed information on the benefits of this budget decision, please see a report from the Library Commission on page 78.  https://elcerritoca.civicclerk.com/Web/UserControls/DocPreview.aspx?p=1&aoid=291

The discussion of the  library is in the forefront as the city grapples with a larger issue – bankruptcy.  For a brief but thorough history of our city’s financial mess, please follow the blog posts https://elcerritocommitteeforresponsiblegovernment.com/blog-2/  or a previous posting on the State Report by El Cerrito Progressives https://elcerritoprogressives.com/2018/12/08/auditor-findings-to-el-cerrito-city-council-raises-red-flags/.

The City Manager continues to target the library while management salaries and overtime costs for public safety are off limits. When the City Manager produced a budget scenario for a 5% reduction in expenditures on April 7th, a proposal now irrelevant due to a further collapse of revenues with a pandemic and state-wide closure, the library hours were on the list and highly recommended to be cut by the City Manager. The City Manager reasoned that the employees to be cut were not City of El Cerrito employees, and that if these hours were not cut, we would have to find $129,000 elsewhere. 

So what do the non-El Cerrito employees do for the library? According to the Library Commission report, the staff increased library programs from 89 per quarter to 137 per quarter- an increase of 54%.  Attendance rose from 1,880 per quarter to 4,141 per quarter, an increase of 120% or an increase of over 9,000 visits per year. Valuable programs such as Storytimes, Read to a Dog, Computer Tutoring and Teen Book Clubs and ESL tutoring make the library a vibrant community center, offering access regardless of income.  

Mayor gives directive for priority of cuts

By the end of the April 7th City Council meeting the City Council did not have a clear consensus on action for library hours. The Mayor instructed the City Manager to provide the City Council with budget scenarios to include a reduction of library hours at different levels such as elimination of Sunday or other times that might be frequented less by the community.  

Although the City Council are unanimous about the positive value of offering adequate library hours, the dismal financial picture overshadows the discussion. The City is now faced with the need to balance  close to a 4 million dollar deficit or a 10% reduction of the original proposed budget for 2020/21. To address the deficit the Mayor suggested some actions including voluntary reduction of pay by staff, reduction in benefits, suggesting that everyone should share in the reductions together.  He suggested that there could be personnel changes at the senior level, and that all departments should be considered. The priorities he laid out are as follows: reduce personnel costs (salary cuts), reduce personnel that don’t reduce services (lay-off), and finally, reduce services. The City Manager retorted that she would  be looking at a scorched earth budget….eliminating positions and library hours.  

What to expect for Tuesday’s Council meeting?

It is worthy to note that for the April 21st meeting, the Staff Report to the City Council does not include a “scorched earth budget”.  However, the City Manager once again recommends full elimination of the City’s contract for the 15 hours of library service. You can see the packet here, starting on page 281 (7.d) Agenda Packet April 21st  The City Manager proposes  to monitor revenue and expenditures for the next two quarters and adopt a new budget for 2020/21 come October.  

Editorial:  The City is in a dire financial condition.  The City is trying to get a short term loan to cover payroll expenses for 60 days in order to remain solvent. It is still not clear if the City fully repaid a previous 9 million dollar loan taken out last fiscal year.  When the landscape looks like this, it is easy to cut services first. However, we believe that before we cut a essential services to our most vulnerable in our community, we focus on areas of historical overspending – management compensation and overtime.  What do you think?

Here are ways to connect with your City officials. 

Please make a public comment for the meeting. 

You can submit testimony by emailing the city clerk, at cityclerk@ci.el-cerrito.ca.us. Your email must contain have a subject line which either states

public comments –not on the agenda

or public comments –agenda item #. So for the library, it would be 7D for the general budget it is 7A. You can make comments on both items!

Comments sent up until noon on the day of the meeting will be given to the council before the meeting. Comments sent in during the meeting and up until the public comment period on the relevant agenda item is closed, will be read into the record and will be limited to a maximum of 3 minutes. It is important that comments become part of the public record of the meeting. This creates a record of community concern.

You can also comment via voicemail at (510) 306-2558. The caller must start the message by stating public comments –not on the agenda or public comments –agenda item #followed by their name and place of residence, followed by their comments.

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