The Redding City Council, buoyed by the unanimous voices of community members, spoke as one on Wednesday to let City Manager Barry Tippin know that the Redding Library is off-limits in the search for dollars to retain four cops and three firefighters.
Acting at the request of the council, Tippin identified five programs that could conceivably be squeezed to free up the $800,000 needed to retain the popular and productive four-member Neighborhood Policing Unit and keep three firefighters on the payroll.
After a 5-0 vote, Tippin was sent back to the drawing board with four programs to work on. Councilman Brent Weaver called the library “a sacred cow.” Councilwoman Francie Sullivan said she’d oppose diverting resources from the library since Redding is contractually obligated to support it—and civic-minded community members dug into their own pockets to bring the library to life after it was shuttered in 1987.
Sullivan’s successful motion instructs Tippin to continue exploring funding options ostensibly available in building permit fees, planning fees, the transient occupancy or hotel bed tax and recreation programs like the Aquatic Center and soccer camps.
The seven public safety positions in question are currently funded with one-time sources. The Neighborhood Policing Unit is funded through June 30, 2019, thanks in part to a $500,000 donation from Bethel Church and an ongoing campaign that has generated an additional $485,426. The three firefighters, also covered through next summer, are funded by a grant that is expiring. If their positions aren’t funded, the city will again be forced to close Fire Station No. 2 on Placer Street at Buenaventura, Tippin said.
The council asked Tippin to identify alternatives that would allow all seven positions to be included in the city’s 10-year financial plan. Tippin’s task became more difficult after voters twice rejected half-cent sales tax hikes to bolster public safety.
None of the alternatives discussed Wednesday night were attractive targets for gleaning extra dollars. All five discretionary programs are subsidized by the city’s general fund “and for good reasons,” Tippin said.
Raising permit and planning fees will likely discourage development and stymie Redding’s already challenged economy; eliminating recreation programs and increasing fees could reduce the quality of life and deny access to Redding’s most vulnerable residents; and diverting bed-tax revenues will hinder the Convention and Visitors Bureau’s ability to market Redding’s many tourist attractions.
The alternative is not very pretty either. “After the Carr Fire, nobody could agree that we can afford to lose more firefighters,” Councilwoman Julie Winter said. “We should pull the library off the table, but I want to look at the other four areas.” Weaver agreed and said it’s important not to focus on just one program.
Aaron Hatch, president of the Shasta Library Foundation, was one of 13 speakers who urged the city to adopt a hands-off policy for the Redding Library. If anything, he said, the library should receive more funding, not less.
Even though it ranks near the bottom in per-capita funding among California libraries, the Redding Library still provides programming and services to children, veterans, seniors, English language learners and adults learning to read, Hatch said.
Megan Conn related a Facebook post from Kallie Markle, who could not attend Wednesday’s meeting: “For me, the conflict of whether to pull up my roots and leave Redding is not based on whether my car will be stolen or whether I will be confronted at any given moment by the universal reality of homelessness, but whether Redding will ever truly shake its ‘poverty flats’ mentality and become a diverse, creative, attractive city that consistently delivers on its potential.
“I do not believe ‘that Redding’ is possible without a thriving library. You cannot ask people on the cusp of poverty and people who are already less educated than the statewide average to ‘make do’ without the many resources provided by our library, and expect that to not increase crime rates.
“Libraries and the cultures they create and foster are a deal breaker for me. Redding needs to prioritize its soul and intellect enough to support its library if it wants to retain young professionals and attract modern businesses,” Markle wrote.
Tippin said he would be able to refine the funding alternatives and bring them before the council in November or December, well before the council begins work on the 2019-20 budget.