After nearly 90 minutes of tense discussions marked by emotional and passionate pleas Monday night in the Solvang City Council chambers, the council members received a boisterous ovation for approving increased funding to several city services.

Monday’s meeting was all about setting the 2012-13 budget following a workshop two weeks ago that ended with the council members asking the finance committee to go back and cut as much as possible to avoid forcing the city to dip into its reserves. Representatives from the Solvang Library, the Solvang Conference and Visitors Bureau (SCVB) and the city’s senior center each stood at the podium and made their respective cases for increased funding. In the end, they each got their wish.

The council voted 4-1 – councilman Hans Duus was the lone dissenter – to increase funding to the library to $74,000 from the proposed $68,500. The added funds will help offset a 15% cut from Santa Barbara County and allow the library to remain open for 36 hours per week after it was already forced to drop to that total last year from 43.5 hours per week in 2010. The council also voted 3-2, with members Ken Palmer and Tara Wood opposing, to raise the funding to the SCVB to its original request of $525,000, up from the $490,000 in the revised budget. Funding for the senior center was unanimously raised from $16,000 to $20,000.

“Well, you guys got everything you wanted,” mayor Jim Richardson told the large audience, many of whom applauded the council as the meeting drew to a close.

The result was definitely satisfying for those who spoke before the council at each of the last two meetings regarding the city’s budget.

Carolyn Lawrence, president of Friends of the Library, brought photos of a few of the 200-plus children who took part in the library’s first summer reading program event on June 13. She stressed that having the library open is important for those children as well as for the overall health of the city.

“If the library closes, where do (these kids) go?” she said.

Noting the benefits that a library provides tourists – such as Internet and the ability to print documents like boarding passes – she went on to add: “An open library serving the community is a welcome place for visitors and speaks of an educated society that values everyone. A closed library clearly shows a community in decline.”

When the discussion was brought back to the council, Palmer was the first to recommend increasing the funding for the library.

“I am reminded that these numbers that we’re looking at are just that: numbers,” he said. “They’re not set in cement. We can’t predict what we’re going to have in the way of income, but we can somewhat predict what we’ll have outgoing. I see no reason why we can’t fund the library to keep it open at least at the same rate that we do now.”

Duus, who voted against the increase in library funding, pushed for the increased payout to the SCVB. “This is our marketing arm, and this is what brings the funding into this town and into this Valley so that we can make all these contributions,” he said of the SCVB. “This is our money maker.”

The council ended up approving the $525,000 for the SCVB, with an additional $125,000 if matching funds are met from other organizations. SCVB executive director Tracy Farhad detailed ways in which the organization plans to further extend its reach, which would only increase the economic impact to the city. She said increased funding would allow the SCVB to utilize a PR firm in Los Angeles to go along with the successful firm already in Denmark.

“I want to repeat that same sort of success with our California market, which makes up more than 50% of who comes to Solvang,” she said, noting that matching funds from other organizations are helping. “We can bring a lot more money to this town, but we have to spend more to get it.”

After approving the budget, the council members encouraged the citizens of Solvang to support the transient occupancy tax – also known as a bed tax – that the council voted at its previous meeting to include on the November ballot. The measure would tax visitors who stay in hotels and motels and bring more revenue to the city.

“If there is enough interest in passing this, there has to be a community committee that gets out there and pushes this,” councilwoman Joan Jamieson said. “It will help the library, the visitors bureau, the senior center, it will help People Helping People, it might’ve given us enough money to help Atterdag Village. We need to get out there and get behind this.”

As the night drew to a close and the satisfied audience members began to make their exits and share their relief, city manager Brad Vidro shared a piece of advice he said was passed down to him from the city’s former finance director and was relevant to the city dipping into its reserves for the budget. “We can definitely do this,” he said with a laugh. “But we can’t do this indefinitely.”

willis@syvjournal.com