The region's struggling economy will cause the layoff of 94 part-time employees and a likely reduction in hours in the Stanislaus County Library system.
The employees — library assistants, pages and administrative clerks — were notified in meetings Thursday morning and afternoon. The layoffs take effect June 30.
Other proposed cuts include reducing hours of operation by closing the Modesto library on Sundays and the branch libraries two additional days a week. The closures, which also would take effect at the end of June, must be approved by the county Board of Supervisors. The proposed closures are coordinated regionally, so that a nearby branch would be open on a day that the local branch is closed.
The layoffs and reduction in hours were prompted by a dramatic decline in revenue, said county Librarian Vanessa Czopek.
The library system gets 85 percent of its revenue from a dedicated one-eighth cent sales tax, and that revenue is expected to drop 12 percent, or slightly more than $1 million in 2008. State funding, which is tied to local contributions, is expected to drop by 66 percent, or $291,000. Local contributions to the library are expected to decline by $54,000.
The library employs 138 part-time workers who do tasks such as checking out books, returning materials to shelves, processing books and materials and driving vans to deliver materials to the library branches.
The library also is cutting one full-time position and leaving eight vacancies unfilled because of a hiring freeze that took effect in January. The employee losing a job will be transferred to another county department, according to Czopek.
"This is a very, very sad thing for us to do," Czopek said. "We hope we don't have to be in this mode for very long."
Employees interviewed Thursday said they knew budget cuts were in the works, but were surprised by the size of the layoffs.
"Shock is a word I would use," said Chris Trew, an administrative clerk who has worked at the library on and off for three years. "All of your friends are dropping off and struggling."
Trew, a 23-year-old Modesto Junior College student, is losing his library job as well, but said he had family to fall back on while he sought another part-time position. "I can't imagine those who don't," he said.
Still thinking about good service
Debbie Johnson, a part-time children's librarian, is losing her job, but she works only five hours a week, so it won't be a big financial hardship, she said.
"It does come as a surprise. Unfortunately, with the state of our economy, it is what it is," Johnson said. "I'm sad it's affecting so many people. I hope the public understands that we are trying to do the best we can. We still want to give the best service."
Johnson has worked at the library since 1995, but went part time two years ago. She has two small children, she said. "I'll just stay at home and continue raising my wonderful kids."
Sharon Arpoika is not losing her job as the head of children's services. She said she had mixed feelings about the cuts.
"I'm glad I still have a job," she said, "but I feel guilty. I feel sad for the community. In dire times, people don't have money to go do things, and a library is a place people can come that doesn't cost a lot of money."
Representatives from the Employment Development Department, the Stanislaus Workforce and Economic Development Alliance and the county's employee assistance plan will be available to help library workers who are losing their jobs, Czopek said.
The remaining employees will be taking on additional duties to make up for the layoffs, she said.
"I anticipate I'll be having to shelve books. A lot of us will be pitching in with duties we don't normally do."
Book buys, repairs reduced
The book acquisition budget is being cut by a third, on top of a 10 percent cut for the current fiscal year, Czopek said, and maintenance and repairs are being deferred unless they pose safety issues.
Library patrons may experience longer waits at the checkout counters in the libraries, Czopek said, but they still will be able to access library services online.
Paul Caruso, president of the Friends of the Ceres Library and a former county supervisor, said the county will have to be sensitive to promises made when voters approved the one-eighth cent sales tax.
The tax originally was passed by voters in 1995, when the library was faced with dramatically reduced operating hours and the possible closure of branches. Voters extended the tax in 1999 and again in 2004.
The library system was open just 240 hours per week when the tax was proposed in 1995. Today, the libraries are open 579 hours per week. With the proposed cuts, they will be open 397 hours per week.
"People voted for the sales tax to have some type of reasonable operating hours and to keep the branches open. They have to be sensitive to the will of the people," Caruso said. "Sometimes you just have to hold on until we weather these things."
Drenda Howard, who was visiting the downtown Modesto library Thursday, agreed.
"I thought the tax we voted in to keep it open last time would take care of it," she said. "Why are we having a problem again?"
Howard suggested that the raises suggested for Modesto City Council members could go to the library. "Between my four children and my 26-gallon gas tank, I don't have any more money to give for taxes," she said.
The library's revenues are expected to decline by $1.44 million. Budget cuts will total $1.79 million. The library's budget this fiscal year is $12.44 million, and uses $1.58 million in reserve funds to balance.
Some reserve funds
The proposed budget for next fiscal year is $10.65 million and uses $1.23 million in reserve funds. The reserves are there because the library staff has been prudent with its budget in past years, said Stan Risen, county assistant executive officer.
The library cuts come as the county struggles with its budget in the light of declining property and sales taxes.
The county Planning Department announced in March the layoff of nine workers because of the slowdown in housing. At the Health Services Agency, the county cut five jobs in March, reduced medical clinic hours, outsourced the radiology department and changed eligibility requirements for indigents.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that the county had also outsourced its pharmacy.
Bee staff writer Tim Moran can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2349.