As The Friends of the San Benito County Free Library and the Coalition for a New Community Library and Resource Center continue their push to construct a larger facility, the San Benito County Board of Supervisors on July 23 denied their request to add $35,000 to the library’s budget for an economic feasibility study. Instead, supervisors directed Librarian Nora Conte to use part of the $100,000 that had been budgeted for new furniture.
It was Conte’s second attempt at securing funds for a consultant to produce a study that would give the county guidance on a new San Benito County Free Library. At the supervisors’ June 24 budget hearing, Conte requested $150,000 for the study as well as future steps in case the study revealed that residents were willing to pay for a new library.
According to the Coalition, the amount requested for an economic feasibility study has always been $35,000, and the additional $115,000 would have gone toward funding other elements of the project such as architectural drawings and business plans.
The approval of new funds required support from at least four on the dias, and Supervisors Peter Hernandez and Anthony Botelho voiced their concerns that all the financial burden to carry the project would fall on San Benito County rather than being a joint effort of local agencies, including the cities.
“If this is all the county doing this, this is a huge weight to carry when Supervisor [Jim] Gillio mentioned we’re very lacking in our economic development,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez also said there needs to be a fiscal analysis showing how additional staff will be paid when a bigger library is constructed. He was also concerned about allowing the library to “dictate the questions” to the community in the survey.
Supervisor Mark Medina said Hernandez could participate in the process as it’s county money that is being used.
This would be the second study in two years on the San Benito County Free Library. In August 2016, Library Systems Services Inc. conducted a needs assessment of the current library facilities and a proposed technology, education and library (TEL) center. In a February 2017 report, supervisors learned the cost of a 60,000-square-foot TEL center would be $47 million.
Nine San Benito County residents spoke in favor of funding a feasibility study, including Hollister Councilman Marty Richman, who criticized the county and city of Hollister for a lack of action.
“I’m tired of you playing the city against the county and I’m tired of the city people, specifically the mayor, so I’ll name him, of playing the city against the county so that none of you can fund it,” Richman said.
Richman said of the 184 libraries in the state database, the San Benito County Free Library ranks 175th per capita for facility size.
“All you have to do is walk over there and look at that facility, and I say shame on you guys,” he said.
District 2 Supervisor candidate Kollin Kosmicki also spoke in support of the study and recommended Conte develop a plan with milestones, costs and options. He also urged the county to meet with the city.
“The mayor is not the only council member. We keep forgetting that,” Kosmicki said. “He doesn’t run the city by himself. There are other council members.”
As for where a new library would be located, he suggested halting plans to renovate the old county courthouse and consider using that property for the new library, potentially saving the county costs on acquisition and construction.
Resident Geoffrey Holland said a library is crucial to educating people and expanding democracy.
“Your responsibility is to provide the opportunity for those that cannot buy [books] to have an opportunity to go and have a level of equality in their community, and you all know that our community is not a rich community,” Holland said. “Our need for a public library is much greater than a fluid community because we have fewer people that can afford to do it on their own.”
After hearing public comment, Supervisor Jaime De La Cruz (specifically citing Holland) said he was willing to give a feasibility study a try to measure where the residents stand.
However, he warned that the public will need to understand if they allocate funds to an expanded library, other departments such as the San Benito County Sheriff’s Office would be affected.
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