As Washoe County prepares for inevitable budget cuts, all county services are being evaluated and categorized according to level of importance to the community.
The Washoe County Board of Commissioners on Jan. 11 received a report from the Organizational Effective Committee (OEC), a group of community leaders that advises the county manager. In that report, the OEC recommended a new tier structure for budget prioritization in which “core services” would not be affected as severely by budget cuts as a “non-core services” or “services in transition.”
• Core services will include those that are defined as “central to fulfilling the board’s mission of making Washoe County safe, secure and healthy.”
• Non-core services and services in transition are defined as services that are deemed candidates for either alternative delivery methods such as outsourcing, privatization or sharing among departments, or phased elimination.
A panel of individuals will review current county services and make recommendations as to which services should be prioritized for continuation and which services can be discontinued.
The library board met Wednesday afternoon to discuss the system’s strategic plan for 2012-2016 and to prepare to go before the county commission to make a case for keeping libraries alive.
“We don’t know where the library falls,” library director Arnie Maurins said in regard to whether libraries are considered a core service. “We will argue it as a core service.”
The board authorized chairperson Judy Simon to draft a letter to the commission about the importance of libraries, especially in a depressed economy.
Libraries are the last resource for many unemployed who are seeking jobs, and children who do not have access to the Internet at home because their families cannot afford it are using libraries to do their homework.
The Washoe County Library System consists of 13 libraries, and keeping all of them open could prove a challenge if the budget is reduced any further.
Commissioner Kitty Jung, who serves as a liaison to the library board, said libraries are not a mandated service. While Jung said she does not want to see any libraries close, she would look closely at closing libraries in wealthier neighborhoods first if budget reductions force the issue.
“I’d look at closing libraries in neighborhoods with two car families,” Jung said.
Jung suggested hiring a consultant to conduct a standard of coverage study to determine which libraries are used the most.
“The study might help make decisions,” she said.
She also suggested looking for a dedicated source of funding for libraries since the county cannot increase taxes to bolster the general fund.
“We are at our maximum tax capacity,” Jung said. “What else can we do so we aren’t general fund reliant? Where can we get a dedicated source that no one can touch?”
Jung said she is not sure what that source might be, but believes looking for a source is a good idea.
Last year, a citizens’ advisory committee was formed to help the Washoe County Library System. The committee currently is brainstorming for ways to keep libraries alive, which includes finding new sources of revenue.
“We definitely will benefit from ideas from the citizens group,” trustee Fred Lokken said. “I’m really impressed. We’ve had several very productive meetings.”
Lokken said the citizens group has engaged in “very honest dialogue” and already has formed subcommittees to address facilities, finance and services issues.
“We do have a terrific group,” Jung said. “They self-selected, so they are passionate.”
While the Washoe County Library System is not a mandated service, it remains committed to the community and upholds a social contract that was drafted several years ago by Nancy Cummings, Maurins said. The system’s new strategic plan includes delivering services community members need and expanding access to those services.
Trustee Dianne Drinkwater said she believes it is important to help community members understand how they benefit from libraries even if they do not use them. Jung agreed and said there is an economic impact that trickles down.
“We need to show how libraries benefit everyone, not just those who use it,” Drinkwater said. “We need to continue to get creative and get into the community.”
The next library board meeting is scheduled for 4 p.m. Feb. 16. For more information, visit www.washoecounty.us/library.