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Supervisors take up groups' efforts to restore library hours

Sonoma County supervisors Tuesday wrestled over how to avoid future funding and service disparities in the county's library system while still enabling supporters of individual branches to dedicate extra support to their libraries.

The issue was one of several concerns that dominated a nearly two-hour discussion of proposed revisions to the joint powers agreement for the county library system.

The new agreement seeks to solve an ongoing controversy about reduced operating hours for the system. It would allow supporters to kick in the money needed to support expanded hours for their branch, covering all extra costs including labor, operations and maintenance.

Critics say the provision could lead to unequal services among the 13 branches, with wealthier communities much better suited to generate the additional funding.

Supervisor Shirlee Zane lambasted the proposal.

“It's a social equity issue,” she said. “It will erode the heart of our library system.”

Supervisor Mike McGuire, who led a year-long discussion among city officials, library stakeholders and others about a new agreement, said it was a change sought especially by branch supporters in Sebastopol, Rohnert Park and Petaluma.

Currently, local donations can pay for furniture, capital improvements, enhanced collections — everything but expanded hours, McGuire explained.

The change would allow advocates who've blasted the reduced hours, which closed all branches on Mondays, to do something about it through donations.

“There should be some independence in the library system to have some independent hours,” said Kristin Merrihew, a Santa Rosa resident who voiced support for the revision.

Under the new agreement, standard “core” hours would be the same for all branches. The board ultimately voted 4-1, with Zane in dissent, to endorse the change allowing additional hours for branches where supported by fundraising.

The board unanimously favored an additional seat for both the county and City of Santa Rosa on the revised library commission. That change would increase the new commission to 12 members, with one representative for each of the other eight cities.

The current commission has seven members, five county appointees and one each from Santa Rosa and Petaluma. The original signatories, along with the county, to the 1975 joint powers agreement were Santa Rosa, Healdsburg, Petaluma and Sonoma.

The draft agreement next goes to all nine city councils for their review. The presentations start Oct. 1 in Santa Rosa.

McGuire said he hopes to have new agreement in place by February.

You can reach Staff Writer Brett Wilkison at 521-5295 or brett.wilkison@pressdemocrat.com.

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