WALNUT CREEK -- Threatened library hours in Walnut Creek may win a reprieve after all.
While the City Council tentatively decided May 6 to fund only 12 open hours per week -- which would mean a major cut in library hours at the two Walnut Creek libraries in the next two-year budget -- there may be a new glimmer of hope for library supporters.
In an unexpected turn of events, Mayor Kristina Lawson has placed a reconsideration item of the library hours on the agenda for the 7 p.m. Tuesday council meeting, to be held at City Hall, 1666 N. Main St.
"In the brief time that has elapsed since the May 6, 2014 City Council meeting, I have had the opportunity to meet with community stakeholders, including a representative of the Walnut Creek Library Foundation," said Lawson in the report. "Based on my conversations with those stakeholders, I determined that the City Council's May 6, 2014 General Fund budget direction regarding library hours warranted reconsideration and further discussion by the entire City Council."
The county pays for 35 hours a week at each of its 26 libraries; if a city wants more than 35 hours of open time at its libraries each week, that city must pay for the additional hours. Through a parcel tax, Walnut Creek enjoyed 56 open hours a week -- 21 above county minimum -- for years. But that money has run out, and city leaders have been forced to find that money while working to balance a multimillion-dollar budget shortfall.
Lawson says she and Councilwoman Cindy Silva, who have been on opposite sides of how to fund the hours, have come together, agreeing the library hours issue needs more consideration, according to the report. Together they recommend library hours be maintained at the existing 56 per week for the next fiscal year starting July 1. That will cost the city $526,935.
The council had originally directed that the $600,000 earmarked to pay for those hours be split equally over the two budget years. But now Lawson and Silva recommend all the money be used to pay for 56 hours for the first year, and that the council start working immediately on how to fund those hours in 2015-16. If the council fails to agree on a plan, library hours would fall to 35 hours a week in July 2015.
With Lawson and Silva on board, only one other vote is needed for this new library plan.
If the libraries were open only 44 hours a week, as council originally agreed to, it would have a full-day closure on another day of the week besides Sunday and shorter hours on other days. It also would mean some county library staff losing positions in Walnut Creek.
Since the May 6 decision, the city has been inundated with pleas from the community that local library hours not be cut. Some also have criticized city leaders for spending millions on the new downtown library and not planning to pay for its operation.
Contact Elisabeth Nardi at 925-952-2617. Follow her at Twitter.com/enardi10.