Citizens Dig in to Help Library
Overlook Major Reason for Debt
Citizen interest in the future of the Modoc County Library came together in various communities recently to discuss -- and in some rare instances -- debate how the library system went broke and what can be done to salvage it.
An agenda overseen by Librarian Cheryl Baker was followed prompting the public to deal more with how to salvage the library rather than examine how Baker managed it to the point of insolvency.
Speaking in support of the library branch in Cedarville, and particularly how to keep it open without losing a staff member, Jim Laacke, president of the Surprise Valley Rotary, announced he was facilitating a $13,000 donation to be used for an employee salary.
Another Surprise Valley resident, Ann Young, asked if volunteers could help keep the library open. Baker said they could but added that librarian work is complicated and would require extensive and costly training.
Skirting the issue of mismanagement, Baker read from a prepared statement that was in boldface and underlined for emphasis: “Modoc County Library does not receive any funds from the county’s general fund.”
But when an audience member asked if the county used library funds for other than library-designated costs Baker made a revealing answer.
“I have come under budget to help out other departments,” she said, “and the county always pays the library’s bills.”
Implied is that like other county departments, library funds have been used to off-set debts elsewhere. Baker did not elaborate on her willingness to help other departments with their debts, and did not explain how the library is over budget by an estimated $113,000 this fiscal year if -- as she said -- she had been “under budget.”
At issue, and largely omitted from public discussion, was Baker’s handling the last ten years or more of the library budget, an issue brought to light in CAO Chester Robertson’s Fiscal Restoration Plan.
“The library has been running chronic deficits for many years, utilizing the fund balance available that had accumulated from a fixed assessment from 1987. Historically the library relied on interest from the fund balance available, but declining interest rates and deficit spending has decimated such revenue,” Robertson wrote in the plan.
Neither the public sessions nor the Modoc County Board of Supervisors have addressed Robertson’s findings or asked Baker to account for her role in the chronic deficits.
Instead, Baker in her prepared statement pointed to a “combination of inflation and rising costs, declining revenues (and) the steep rise in property tax delinquency” among the causes of the library’s financial failure.
There was also a vague reference to “Modoc County’s fiscal crisis” which could be interpreted as a fiscal crisis caused by the $20 million misappropriation of the treasury, largely attributed to the on-going practice of using general funds from other departments such as the library to pay down still other department debts.
It was also revealed at the Cedarville session that the library is subject to a county-imposed “cost plan” which means all departments, including the library, are charged a fee by the county for services such as payroll and accounting. The library‘s annual fee is $24,000.
It is not known what that accumulated fee is used for by the county.
Editor’s Note: Barbara March, publisher of the Modoc Independent News, continued to this report. This article first appeared in the Modoc Independent News, p. A1.