A May 2023 Fresno County Grand Jury report outlined concerns around citizen oversight of Measure B, which provides a majority of funding for the library system. Credit: Omar Shaikh Rashad / Fresnoland

What's at stake?

The county library and the board of supervisors have six more years until the expiration of Measure B, the sales tax that on average provides more than half of the library system’s funding.

In a set of responses released this week, the Fresno County Board of Supervisors pushed back against criticisms of the county’s library system outlined in a May grand jury report

The report revealed that the Fresno County Public Library’s 34 branches do not have as many users as comparable library systems throughout California. The jury also found that a civilian oversight board meant to keep an eye on tax revenue that funds the library system is not very involved in financial decisions and needs clearer guidance. 

The Fresno County Civil Grand Jury recommended that the board of supervisors outline oversight responsibilities for the civilian oversight body. In a set of responses released this week, the supervisors rejected the recommendation. 

The county library and the board of supervisors have six more years until the expiration of Measure B, the sales tax that on average provides more than half of the library system’s funding. There are three more library expansions in Clovis, Reedley, and Highway City to complete before then.

Fresno County’s Measure B was first approved by voters in 1998. Voters have since renewed the sales tax twice — in 2004 and 2012 — directing $353 million to Fresno County Public Library branches since 1999. 

When it was first approved, the measure created an oversight body of county residents — the Citizens Review Panel — meant to advise Fresno County Supervisors on whether Measure B tax revenue was being used appropriately. Although the panel meets quarterly, agendas for its meetings in 2023 are not available online. Minutes are available for only one meeting on April 19 this year. 

The grand jury report argued that the panel does not have its responsibilities and authority clearly outlined. The grand jury came to that conclusion after discovering the panel never gets involved in how to spend the tax revenue before decisions are made, and rarely questions decisions after they are made.

The supervisors this week said they wouldn’t follow the recommendation to draft a detailed outline of the panel’s oversight responsibilities. 

“The Board of Supervisors does believe that the role of the Citizens Review Panel is outlined in Resolution #99-061, which states that the role of the panel is to ‘ensure that the detailed uses made of the revenues are in accord with the expenditure plan (in the ordinance) approved by the voters,’” wrote county spokesperson Joshua Dean over email.

The grand jury wrote in May that the 11-member oversight board had four vacant positions, making a quorum difficult. At the time of response, the supervisors wrote there were only three board vacancies. They said they are always seeking to fill vacant positions.

The report also discovered Fresno County’s libraries do not have updated plans for service delivery or facilities planning. These documents, required by a 2012 county ordinance, would outline the library system’s future needs and long term goals.

Fresno County Librarian Raman Bath, who responded to the report in July, committed to begin drafting the facilities plan and completing the service plan before the end of 2023. 

Bath also wrote that the library system has already been working to increase public awareness of the library’s programs and resources after a decline in registered library users over several years.

What’s next?

In June, the county released a request for proposals so third party consultants could submit marketing plans for the library. Library spokesperson Susan Renfro did not answer questions about progress on hiring the consultant. 

“The Library’s overall goal with participating in the Marketing RFP is to work alongside the chosen vendor to create a general awareness campaign to increase the number of Fresno County residents signing up for a Library card,” Renfro wrote over email.

To learn more about Fresno County library programs, or to register for a library card, visit fresnolibrary.org.

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Omar Shaikh Rashad is the government accountability reporter for Fresnoland.

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