Siskiyou County closes eight libraries

Siskiyou County has wiggled out of a $3.7 million shortfall by closing eight of its 12 libraries, cutting 40 positions and making other pullbacks — a move that drew statewide media attention and brought a California state consultant to help pioneer a lean library model for other squeezed counties.

The county budget, which goes into effect July 1, continues funding for only the Yreka central library and branches in Mount Shasta, Etna and Butte Valley for six months, said County Administrative Officer Brian McDermott.

Lopping off the other eight libraries, cutting the Siskiyou County Museum and making deep cuts in county fire services and farm advisers saved $766,000.

While McDermott got 20 to 30 calls a week from citizens upset about the library closures, he assured other branches that, if they could obtain funding from their respective cities and staff with volunteers, the Yreka central library would keep them in the book exchange and Internet programs and send an employee out for one-half day a week.

So far, the Dunsmuir and Tulelake branches have committed to such an arrangement, he said.

Working with Friends of the Library, the county discussed an independent levy for libraries, but decided it's too late to get it on the ballot this November — but it could be studied for a vote in coming years, McDermott said.

The county discussed the option of privatization with LSSI of Maryland, the same firm called in to manage Jackson County libraries, he said.

"But they said they couldn't do it much cheaper than we were already doing it," McDermott said.

The unprecedented library closure got prominent coverage in many daily California newspapers, and "we got the attention of the state librarian, who is going to come here in a few weeks and work with us on ideas for a stronger library system with less reliance on (county) general fund monies," McDermott said.

"They think that what happened in Siskiyou County is going to happen in other counties and they want to have strategies on hand," he noted. "We're anxious for them to get here."

The county made up the rest of the deficit by cutting 40 positions — 25 of them through layoffs, with the rest from vacancies, furloughs or early retirement incentives, McDermott said. The Siskiyou County Sheriff's Department cut $1.2 million through layoffs of six deputies and four corrections officers at the jail.

Facing closure of the museum, the Siskiyou County Historical Society said it would "step up to the plate" and keep it operational with volunteer staff and reduced days, McDermott said.

County fire services lost $103,000, mainly by going to half-time at the Hornbrook station during non-fire season.

Under the California system, counties start the fiscal year with a "recommended budget," which may be changed in September, when they learn exact figures for funding from the state, said McDermott, indicating that "realignments" of state funding likely would be downward.

Siskiyou County's recommended budget was approved Tuesday by the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors.

The drastic shortfall, said Supervisor Marcia Armstrong, comes from "a perfect storm of state reductions in revenues to counties, increased salary expenses from union agreements" and the severe recession.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at

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