Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Library Privatization and the Public Good Part I

Recently, when I heard that the Kern County Board of Supervisors were considering privatizing the library system, my immediate reaction was visceral. I was in San Diego eating lunch with my wife and almost choked on my food. After lunch we got on the highway for the four hour drive home. During that drive I thought about my time as a librarian there and all the ways I broke my back to bring superior service to the people of Kern County in spite of the budgetary scraps the board tossed to us.

What is this talk of privatization you ask? In order to compensate for lost oil revenues the Board of Supervisors are considering "innovative" ways to cut costs among the departments. For the library that means farming library service out to a private company such as Library Systems and Services (LSSI).

LSSI is a private, for profit limited liability company based in Germantown, Maryland. No, it's not a California based company. According to their website, they imply that they are able to give local governments more "bang for the buck."They also claim that they "do NOT privatize library services (emphasis mine)," however, their employees are NOT public employees (see: www.lssi.com). While they manage libraries in other states, in California they have contracts in Riverside County, Redding, and Santa Clarita. The way this works is after a contract is awarded, current employees are laid off. Those who are laid off have an opportunity to interview for their job with LSSI. This is a big cost savings because employee salaries are cut and their pension is reduced to a 401k.

But I have a some other questions for the board of supervisors. Not that I support any outsourcing but what other services are you considering for outsourcing? Parks? Fire Department? Sheriff's Department? What other budget cuts are they considering? We already know that salaries account for the most costly expense. So is the board considering cutting their salaries? How about the County Administrator Officers's salary? (The CAO received a raise of $28,502 in 2013! www.transparentcalifornia.com).