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With more funding, there’s been more reading

Cory Fisher

One thing’s sure – residents are taking full advantage of the county’s South Lake Tahoe Branch Library.

Since a funding boost in January increased hours, staff, programs and book offerings, Branch Supervisor Sally Neitling says patronage has grown dramatically.

“Over 11,000 books went out in March alone,” she said. “That’s a 136 percent increase over last year.”

The library now has roughly 18,500 registered members, said Neitling, some of whom live as far away as Tahoma.

The library weathered crippling financial cutbacks in 1995-96, when the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association filed suit against a 1995 voter-approved tax assessment designated solely to augment library funding.

Due to the suit, county supervisors elected to postpone collection of the $12 addition to property taxes in ’95-96, resulting in personnel and program cutbacks, and a non-existent book budget. Hours were cut to a mere 16 hours a week.

At the time, employees were forced to keep the heat on low and use minimal lighting, said Neitling, and each staff member volunteered to take time off to keep one position from being eliminated.

“That period was just awful,” said El Dorado County Library Director Jeanne Amos. “It hurt all of us.”

Response from the community was startling, however, when a fund-raising drive brought in roughly $27,000, allowing the library to purchase books and moderately expand hours and programs.

Although Amos said the suit has yet to go to court, county supervisors voted to go ahead and collect the assessment for the 1996-97 fiscal year. The county must refile every year, Amos emphasized, despite the fact that voters approved the property tax line item for 10 years. The annual public hearing on the benefit assessment is scheduled for July.

“The countywide lawsuit is still pending. If there were a legal judgment against our authority to collect it might change things, but we’ve done everything properly and legally,” said Amos. “But the plaintiffs are not actively pursuing it, and it hasn’t kept us from doing what we think is right. We’re using voter-mandated money – it’s the will of the people.”

The assessment – matched at 80 percent by the county – translated into $226,000 for this year, said Amos, which has resulted in a remarkable expansion of service.

A book budget of $32,000 plus $15,000 donated by the Friends of the Library has enhanced the branch’s collection significantly, said Neitling, with new books “going out as fast as they come in.”

South Tahoe’s first credentialed reference librarian, Elizabeth Concha-Foley, began working April 12.

“Elizabeth has a lot of new ideas,” said Neitling. “She will be a tremendous asset.”

Concha-Foley, who is bilingual, said the library has already secured a grant to expand their collection of books in Spanish. Community outreach will be a focus in the months to come, she said, including working with local schools and adult organizations to educate residents on the many new resources available.

“We’re back to a full staff and we’ve got more volunteers than ever,” said Neitling with a smile. “It’s wonderful – I’ve got a very rewarding job.”

Library hours are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays. For more information, call 573-3185.


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