Mayor Don Freitas is concerned that county officials are trying to stick Antioch with a $1.4 million bill to take over maintenance and needed upgrades for the Antioch Library.
The 40-year-old library building on 18th Street, which is owned and operated by the county, is in immediate need of a new heating and air conditioning system and upgrades to the alarm and fire safety system, costing $515,000. Over the next five years, a long list of other improvements need to be made totaling nearly $800,000. In addition, yearly maintenance costs about $130,000.
County Librarian Anne Cain sent a letter on May 21 asking city officials to consider taking over the building upkeep so that the county could focus its resources on providing library services to meet growing public demand.
It's one of three options that she asked the City Council to consider. The other two are providing $140,000 this year to help keep the library open 40 hours a week, or providing $198,000 to continue keeping the library open 52 hours a week.
At the June 10 council meeting, Freitas told Cain that he's not supportive of the city getting stuck with the tab for the library building repairs.
I have to tell you, philosophically, the county should provide library services period, he said. It's one of the most basic services that the county can provide. We know and you know that the county has continued to cut back on facilities. Things just don't get repaired, they don't get repainted, they don't get improved, period.
So, saying, Gee, maybe we need to transfer this responsibility to the city' does not sit well with me at all. If (county officials) want to spend a million dollars in bringing the building up to par, then I think we can sit down and have a discussion. But don't give us a building that's been deteriorating for years and years and years and say, OK, here it is. You guys go take care of it.'
Cain said she understands his concerns, but she disputed that library services should only be provided by the county.
I'm not sure where that comes from, she said. There is no law, regulation, policy that it's the county's responsibility to provide library services. There are very few cities the size of Antioch in the state of California that do not spend more money on library service.
What is the justification for (the county) spending $180,000 last year to make improvements in that building when we are not making those expenditures in 22 of the 25 other (library) buildings (in the county)? You might be able to do it less expensively than we can. It may not make economic sense to send people out from Martinez to change light bulbs and do the custodial.
The council agreed to have discussions in the next year over the possibility of transferring the county's control of library facilities either to Antioch or a new agency comprised of East County cities or perhaps all of the cities in the county.
Freitas said he's willing to discuss the option of selling the Antioch Library building and using the proceeds to build a new library elsewhere. He didn't say where, but Prewett Park is planned to have a library some day.
With regard to the funding options for the library hours, the council agreed to spend $198,000 to keep the library open 52 hours per week.
Councilman Arne Simonsen cast the only vote against it. He said the county could get the extra funding from other sources, such as the Keller Canyon Landfill Mitigation Fund and the First Five grant for programs for youngsters. He also pointed out that the city General Fund budget will be running deficits in the next two years.
We have much bigger fish to fry, said Simonsen. We have some litigation that we have to consider will impact our General Fund and our lawyer fees. I am not going to sit around and let the cities take over obligations of the county, which are direct arms of the state government. I'm not going to start picking up their stuff that is just totally wrong and then put it on our taxpayers to pay for that.
But other council members argued that the library provides vital services, especially for children and teens, and that cutting back the hours to 40 per week would hurt the community.
This truly is a quality-of-life issue, said Freitas. Not everybody has access to a computer. Not everybody has access to resource materials. Frankly, the libraries provide a safety net for a lot of the children that live in this community. The library has, unfortunately, become a babysitter for after-school programs. This is a very, very small investment to make for an enormous good in the community.
But a few minutes later, Freitas was displeased when a majority of the council agreed to pay for the additional hours out of a $230,000 city fund to maintain a local childcare facility. They agreed to spend $80,000 from that fund to pay for the expanded library hours and equipment at Prewett Park. Freitas argued that the money will be needed in the future to replace the facility's portable buildings.