On Tuesday morning, volunteers applied a dark film to the front windows of the Angels Camp branch of the Calaveras County Library to accommodate visits from a 2-year-old girl with a rare genetic sensitivity to ultraviolet rays.

In the few times the girl can leave the house, she likes to join other kids at the Angels Camp Library for children’s story time, said County Library Director Nancy Giddens.

“Libraries are places that welcome everyone. That's what we do. We accommodate everyone as much as we can,” Giddens said.

But many of those volunteers, some of them members of the fundraising group Angels Camp Friends of the Library, felt abandoned when the branch’s annual rental subsidy was dropped from city’s 2019-20 budget.

“We were dumbfounded. Basically right now we’ve had to scramble. We did not budget for this,” said Diane Jarvi, president of the Angels Camp Friends of the Library.

The cost for rent and some utilities for the 1,800-square-foot building at 426 N. Main Street in Angels Camp, is approximately $975 a month, or $11,700 annually, Jarvi said.

The city has provided a one-half to full rental assistance since 2003, except in the 2010-11 fiscal year. The majority of the approximately $40,000 budget is covered by Calaveras County.

Angels Camp City Administrator Melissa Eads said the rental subsidy was cut because the city was focusing on essential services and infrastructure.

“Unless we found a different way of doing business we would be off a fiscal cliff in two years,” Eads said.

For the first time in many years, the Angels Camp City Council passed a balanced budget, she said. A slight discrepancy in total expenditures of $12.2 million with revenue of $11.95 million was due to in-progress capital projects, she said.

Eads said the rental subsidy could have been a consideration in the budget, but county or library officials did not submit official requests as they had done in previous years.

“They were aware of the potential impacts to the budget with this line not being included,” Eads said. “We wish that Friends of the Library would have engaged the CAO or myself in a discussion.”

The Angels Camp branch is funded through the overall library budget of about $692,000, Giddens said. Approximately $600,000 comes from the county, while the rest comes from grants, fundraising, fees and other outside sources.

The funds are distributed to eight branches, but is primarily funnelled through the central library in San Andreas.

Giddens said she believed the Angels Camp branch was established in 1982.

Giddens said she was shocked when she learned on July 1, the first day of the new fiscal cycle, the branch wouldn’t be receiving the subsidy, which it had received for the past three years she has been in her position.

“It’s surprising to me the city isn't supporting that for the sake of their residents,” Giddens said. “This is not going to kill us, but it's too bad we had to make adjustments in our budget. But that's life, I move on. I'm not the kind of person to get bogged down in these kinds of things.”

“We just felt like we were totally blindsided. Nobody knew,” added Jarvi.

Giddens said when she took the job in 2016, she was reassured that the Angels Camp branch was an “essential service” and would receive the rental subsidy on an ongoing basis.

But in the next few years, the subsidy wasn’t necessarily preordained.

In the 2017-18 budget cycle, Giddens was asked to make a presentation to the Angels Camp City Council about the branch. The next budget cycle, then County Administrator Tim Lutz organized a meeting between Giddens and Eads to discuss the importance of the subsidy, Giddens said.

Giddens noted she was not asked to make a presentation that year, but she did anyway.

This year, Giddens said no request was made for a presentation or public appearance to defend the rental subsidy, so she didn’t make one.

Eads said she was later reassured by county officials that the cuts would not affect services at the Angels Camp branch.

Giddens also said patrons would not see any difference in the day to day operation of the Angels Camp branch, but she had to find a way to pay the rent in the county library’s budget that lacks much discretionary spending.

“We’re not going to close to branch. We’re not going off in a huff. These things happen,” she said. “But this is too bad. Now I have to cut my budget, but we adjusted.”

Giddens said the cuts would focus on the library’s new materials budget for DVDs, audiobooks and digital resources at all the county sites.

She said the new materials budget was about $32,000 and would be cut by a third to meet the payments for the Angels Camp branch rent.

“I would be loathe to cut staff or hours, so I cut what we can buy new,” she said.

The Angels Camp branch has three public access computers, 12,000 pieces (which include all media such as bound books, DVDs, audiobooks), two staff members who share hours while the branch is open 24 hours a week and seats 12-15 people at capacity.

Jarvi said the removal of the rental subsidy would impede the efforts of the branch to grow and provide additional services as it had done in past years.

A Friends of the Library press release said patron visits had increased 14.3 percent, from 6,744 visits during the 2016-17 fiscal year to 7,870 to the 2018-19 year.

Story Time for new moms and preschoolers, held Friday from 10:30 a.m. to 11 a.m., has seen a 24.4 percent increase from 568 visits in 2017-18 to 752 visits in 2018-19.

“I think as a rural community, it's very much needed here. There’s a lot of people that don't have wifi access. They do all kinds of things here,” Jarvi said.

The location is the primary spot for underprivileged members of the community to utilize public internet connectivity, printers and digital media, Giddens said.

The library hours of operation at Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Contact Giuseppe Ricapito at (209) 588-4526 or gricapito@uniondemocrat.com . Follow him on Twitter @gsepinsonora.

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