Should Plumas County continue to subsidize Sierra County’s public libraries?
That question was posed to the Plumas County Board of Supervisors on Feb. 11. County Administrator Gabriel Hydrick and Plumas County Librarian Lindsay Fuchs have been working with a Sierra County ad hoc committee as they attempt to make sense of an existing partnership.
It’s the board’s decision on whether Plumas County should continue to remain responsible for Sierra County library stations, Hydrick told supervisors.
“I want to make sure that Plumas isn’t subsidizing Sierra County,” Hydrick said as he explained that he and Fuchs have been doing a bit of housekeeping on the issue.
Sierra County is the only county in the state not to have its own library system, said Supervisor Lori Simpson. That fact couldn’t immediately be verified.
Under the state education code that also governs public libraries, it is permissible for one county to be involved in another county’s library system.
Hydrick said he looked through previous agreements with the frontier county. He found one for 2013, but it wasn’t signed by Sierra County. Hydrick didn’t learn how long Plumas and Sierra counties have operated a joint library program.
Even Simpson, who at one time worked for the Plumas County Library system, didn’t recall how old the partnership was. There is documentation however that shows an agreement for library services going back to at least 1996.
Since fiscal year 2016-17 Sierra County Board of Supervisors consistently budgeted $23,000 for services. The document shows that costs for those services have consistently been higher.
Those unpaid fees were addressed in a Jan. 2 letter to the Sierra County Board of Supervisors from Hydrick and Fuchs. “The request is for reimbursement of the costs that exceed the current, but outdated agreement,” Fuchs explained.
Hydrick said that during recent ad hoc meetings, he and Fuchs have attempted to get Sierra County to agree to a larger budget of $30,000. This fee more accurately represents increases in services as experienced by the Plumas County Library.
Sierra County has four public library stations. These are in Loyalton, Downieville, Sierra City and Allegany. According to Hydrick, staffing totals less than a half-time position for all four stations. For the 2019-20 year that amount is $11,466.50. The stations rely on volunteers to help keep hours of operation for the public and for other services.
“For years these people that ran these little stations just got stipends,” Simpson explained. But the state changed that and said that stipends were no longer acceptable. The people formerly receiving stipends were turned into county employees.
Besides using Sierra County’s annual contribution for the salaries, Hydrick said there are also human resources costs to consider.
In a document listed as Exhibit A and included in a letter to the Sierra County Board of Supervisors, costs are itemized for the partnership. According to the document, Sierra’s costs also include a portion of three salaries for Plumas County Library staff members for work they do that directly relates to Sierra County Library services. This totaled $4,932.77 and includes Fuchs’
responsibilities to Sierra.
Services also include those required of Fuchs as she travels to Sierra County’s library stations. “She does travel out there regularly,” Hydrick said.
Plumas also handles book and magazine purchases totaling $481.13, office supplies, labor law posters, liability insurance and other related costs. These expenditures, including salaries, total $20,883.28.
Memberships for the library system, CalPERS contributions and other costs bring the amount up to more than $21,600. The final costs for fiscal year 2019-20 total $27,148.36. That amount includes an overhead of $5,335.94. This amount, combined with the $3,285.90 for the current fiscal year brings the total requested to $8,621.84, which is in addition to the $23,000 budgeted by Sierra County. And Fuchs requested reimbursement of that amount in her letter to Sierra supervisors.
Looking at the risk management side, Hydrick said that at least one of the libraries presents some hazards. “That’s an understatement,” Supervisor Sherrie Thrall agreed. Sierra County agreed to make some improvements, Hydrick said.“Is there a flag in the ground for supervisors to say ‘we’re not taking on Sierra County’s personnel?’” Hydrick asked the board.
During the discussion with Fuchs, Hydrick and supervisors, Thrall said that she’s noted that library costs have gone up. “Are we getting compensated?”
Hydrick said there is a verbal agreement to pay the account requested.
Hydrick said he was really pleased with discussions that have taken place with the Sierra ad hoc committee.
“They probably know how good they’ve had it for a number of years,” Thrall said about the partnership.
She later added, “It’s like if we went to Butte County and said we don’t want to operate a library, will you do it?”
“We hold all the cards,” she added about the partnership.
Hydrick said that he’s learned there are all types of little things that fall under the services to Sierra County, “and that’s what we’re trying to point out.”
In background information, Sierra County Board of Supervisors appointed an ad hoc committee for the library partnership July 23, 2019. This was in response to a request by Fuchs made June 20, 2019.
Plumas supervisors took no formal action on the Sierra library partnership.