Tightening the belt
Supervisors reject budget amendments to fund library, district attorney’s program
Butte County’s budget for the next fiscal year will not include funds for extended library hours or to bolster a long-running program aimed at helping the children of drug offenders, despite passionate pleas from library supporters and District Attorney Mike Ramsey, respectively, to the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday (June 22).
The hearing, which the supervisors called for after accepting a draft of the 2015-16 budget on June 9, mostly focused on a motion proposed by Supervisor Larry Wahl and amended by Supervisor Maureen Kirk to direct $344,000 toward the library and hiring one additional staff member for the DA’s Drug Endangered Children program. Most of those funds would come from $290,000 received by the county from a class-action lawsuit against Office Depot. The board rejected the motion by a vote of 3-2, with Supervisors Bill Connelly, Doug Teeter and Steve Lambert dissenting.
The $482 million final budget, which supervisors will vote to finalize July 28, includes extra funding to enforce Measure A (the county’s medical marijuana cultivation ordinance), building and improvement projects including the completion of the county’s new Hall of Records and funding for 20.5 new positions, including 17 new staff members at Butte County Behavioral Health.
The supervisors also agreed with a staff recommendation to develop a plan to restructure the county’s fire services, which face a $1.1 million funding gap resulting from lost Indian gaming funds and increases in minimum wage, state benefit costs and negotiated wage increases.
“When it comes to service, we have the Cadillac; we have the best fire department in the state, probably. We just don’t have the money to pay for it,” Lambert said following a full report on the budget by county Chief Administrative Officer Paul Hahn.
Library funding was by far the most contentious issue during the hearing, with Wahl opening the debate by saying he agreed with “99.8 percent” of Hahn’s report and staff budget recommendations. His only objection was that proposed library allocations would result in the loss of three employees—one a vacancy that will remain unfilled, and two created by the Chico City Council’s recent decision to cut $100,000 in funding to that city’s branch. Wahl’s goal was to secure funding to keep the Chico library open at its current service level and add seven hours each to the Paradise and Oroville branches.
“This morning we approved a consent agenda with about $18 million devoted to vocational training, job assistance, mental health and behavioral services, primarily—all good and worthy programs,” Wahl said. “Much of that can be complemented by library services and programs.
“We have over 100,000 library cards in Butte County; almost half of the population is library users or holders,” he continued. “Most programs, be they behavioral health or otherwise, serve a select group of people, but the library serves 100 percent of every citizen in Butte County.”
More than a dozen red-shirted library supporters took up two rows of the meeting chambers, and several took advantage of the public comment period to voice their support.
“I’d also like the board to consider beginning a discussion regarding stable funding sources for all libraries in the county library system so we can stop the need to come before you and beg for consideration of additional funding in coming years,” said Stephanie Taber, who criticized what she called the city of Chico’s “wrong-headed” move.
Ramsey addressed the board to pitch for additional funding to hire one staff member for the county’s Drug Endangered Children program. The DA’s dramatic multimedia presentation included pictures of squalor—cockroaches on a baby’s bottle, rat poison and a chainsaw on the living room floor and more—taken during a recent methamphetamine lab raid on a home in which four young children were seized, as well as a television news clip about an Oroville home destroyed by a honey oil explosion.
Ramsey explained the program began in 1993 to address the needs of children present during drug raids in cases when Childrens Services or other agencies needed more time to respond, and said the county’s model has been adopted nationwide. The program has been primarily supported by now-disappearing grants, and Ramsey hoped to secure funding to pay the salary for one investigator.
The hearing lasted more than two hours, and in the end the majority of supervisors remained unswayed. Lambert emphasized the importance of frugality and public safety, and the library and drug issues often overlapped during sometimes-heated exchanges between the supervisors.
“The idea of getting a drug user into the library is a noble thought, but being in business for 25 years in Oroville, I know those folks aren’t going to the library unless you pick ’em up, dry ’em out, go through the process and maybe show them where it’s at,” Lambert said during his final pitch to deny the extra funding. “Those kids don’t get the opportunity to go to a library; they don’t even get a chance to eat. I think we’re a little misguided thinking the library is going to save a society that doesn’t know where the library is, unless it’s on their way to pick up some drugs.”