OROVILLE — Butte County has taken a step forward in searching for a solution to the library system’s financial shortfall.
After using one-time funds to temporarily extend library services in its latest budget hearing, the Butte County Board of Supervisors issued a request for proposals for the process of data gathering and determining the viability of a bond or tax structure for the coming ballot. An ad hoc committee, which included supervisors Tami Ritter and Tod Kimmelshue, was established to oversee the proposals.
Team CivX was chosen from a list of four outside consultants with a year-long contract for polling and community outreach to the tune of $167,250 which was approved Tuesday by the board in a 4-1 vote with Supervisor Bill Connelly voting against.
During a presentation on the item, Chief Administrative Officer Andy Pickett provided a recap on the dire financial predicament the county found itself in last year when public safety services were in danger of heavy cutbacks due to empty positions and non-competitive salaries. The county opted to increase salaries but some areas still fell short such as some of the Amador fire stations in rural parts of the county and the library system.
“The board at the time used one-time funding to keep the services status quo and then directed staff to come back and come back with options,” Pickett said.
Team CivX’s Richard Bernard and Joy Kummer attended the meeting to provide explanations on what they do and how the process will go forward.
“My job is to assess voter opinion on the matters here today,” Bernard said. “… If voters come back and say we’re not supporting that, then we’ll tell you.”
The project is broken down into two phases. The first comes down to opinion polling. Team CivX will survey Butte County residents via email, phone calls and text messages to test the waters and understand voter demographics and how the general public would feel about a tax measure that would go entirely to the library system. The second phase consists of an informational campaign that explicitly lays out the information surrounding a proposed tax measure, where the funding would go and why that funding is needed to keep the libraries functioning as they have been.
Supervisor Peter Durfee expressed support for the contract.
“We need revenue and we need to find a way to get it,” Durfee said.
Connelly, the sole no vote on the item, expressed that the county is already aware that the library will need to put its future funding before the public and called the contract an unnecessary expense.
While Connelly wasn’t in favor of the contract, it managed to drum up a 4-1 approval vote from the board, which is the minimum it needed to pass.
The item received three public comments, one in person and two digitally. Julie Threet gave the in-person comment agreeing with Connelly.
Neil Meyer backed the county in going forward with gathering public opinion and forming a ballot measure.
“Time to get this ball rolling,” Meyer said in his digital comment. “I’m worried that libraries and fire stations will still be on your chopping block in the 2024-25 budget, if not before. We don’t need to repeat all that trauma and anxiety, especially when administrative positions and salaries continue to increase.”
John Stonebreaker noted that he’d support a tax if there were a possibility of expanding library services to rural areas.
“If your consultants propose to reopen our branches in Magalia, Nimshew, De Sabla, and Stirling City — or even one such location, at least four days a week — I would be perfectly glad to support a square-footage or dwelling-unit assessment to fund it,” Stonebreaker said. “If your consultants propose to tax unincorporated communities who have already lost their libraries so municipalities do not have to directly fund their own, I would be glad to qualify a competing tax measure for Upper Ridge CSD to provide services here ourselves.”
Funding for the contract will come from the county’s contingency account.
The Butte County Board of Supervisors generally meets at 9 a.m. on the second and fourth Tuesday of the month at its chambers located at 25 County Center Drive, Suite 205 in Oroville. Meetings are free and open to the public.
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