Library officials have asked the city controller to review a $141 million library branch program that ended up behind schedule and over budget, in hopes of reassuring San Franciscans — who may be asked to approve more library funds this November — of the agency’s fiscal responsibility.
Predominantly funded by a $106 million improvement bond approved by voters in 2000, the Branch Library Improvement Program, or BLIP, was originally scheduled to have 19 branch renovations and four construction projects completed by 2009.
The program is now short by between $44 million and $52 million, according to City Librarian Luis Herrera, and five branch renovation projects — at Bayview, Golden Gate, Merced, North Beach and Ortega — have been postponed until additional funding can be secured.
To get that additional monies, library officials are eyeing a library fund approved by voters in 1994 that earmarks a percentage of city revenues for operation of the library system. The Proposition E fund expires in 2009, but The City’s Library Commission voted unanimously Thursday to place a City Charter amendment on the November 2007 ballot to renew the fund a year early.
The new preservation fund measure would be different in that it would authorize The City to issue debt secured by or repaid from the library preservation fund — which could be used for the remaining facilities improvements. Supervisor Aaron Peskin has agreed to sponsor the charter amendment.
Calls for an independent audit came from Library Commission members, the Library Citizens Advisory Committee and the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library, a philanthropic organization that funneled $16 million into the improvement program.
“I thought an audit would be important for voters,” said Library Commissioner Larry Kane, a partner in the law firm of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe. “To make sure they know we’re not wasting taxpayer money.”
The Friends of the San Francisco Public Library also conducted its own review of the program’s forecasting methodology, according to Executive Director Donna Bero, but the study didn’t audit the accounting of the current improvement program.
Library activist Peter Warfield said he was skeptical of any review that didn’t verify the specific financial shortfalls of the current improvement program. He said the revised charter amendment amounted to handing library officials a blank check for future construction projects — and problems.
The San Francisco Public Library lists locations, hours, and phone numbers online.
Staff Writer Joshua Sabatini contributed to this report.