Tax for Sonoma County Library heading to voters
Supporters of the Sonoma County Library are hoping to pass a sales tax measure this November to increase programs and restore hours across the 17-branch system, including the Petaluma Regional Library.
After a similar eighth-cent sales tax measure narrowly failed in 2014, backers hope that voters this year will give the measure the two-thirds support required to pass dedicated tax measures.
The estimated $12 million that the tax would raise over 10 years would help restore services that were cut during the recent financial downturn, according to the campaign in support of the measure. Opponents are weary of any new taxes, and have questions about the library board’s spending priorities.
The library receives funding from property taxes, an amount that’s been set since 1978 at 22.5 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, according to Katherine Rinehart, a historian and librarian from Petaluma. The library’s current annual budget is $17 million.
The library, “is trying operate in the 21st century on 1970s funding,” she said in an email. “Not only does the Library need more funding, it needs funding that is stable.”
If the measure passes, library officials say they will restore library hours, including Mondays. The Petaluma library, along with other branches, are currently closed Sunday and Monday. They will also use the revenue to increase educational programs for children, English learners, seniors and the disabled, attract qualified librarians and upgrade facilities, book collections and technology.
“In Petaluma, being open for more hours would makes us even more of a community resources,” said Joe Cochrane, the Petaluma branch manager. “Our librarians are great at doing a lot with a little. Right now, we are doing what we can with a lot of volunteers.”
The Sonoma County Taxpayer’s Association is against the measure. Dan Drummond, the group’s executive director, said that the budget cuts that the library experienced during the recession have now been restored as property values have increased. He said that, instead of restoring hours, the library has decided to give staff raises, hire new positions and open a new branch in Roseland.
“The revenue is back on par, but they have chosen to use the money for things other than library hours,” he said. “We’re not saying they’ve made bad choices, but it’s a little disingenuous to say that restoring hours is a priority when they’ve chosen to spend money on other purposes.”
Recent polling shows the measure passing with 76 percent support, according to a phone survey of 600 voters. The same measure received 62 percent at the ballot in 2014, failing by about 400 votes to reach the two-thirds threshold.
The measure would increase annual library funding from $33 per county resident to $56, said Tim May, Petaluma’s representative on the library commission. By comparison, Napa’s library system spends $85 per person, Marin’s $106 and San Francisco’s $130. Libraries in those counties bear a cost for their facilities, unlike those in Sonoma County.
May said that Petaluma’s library is responsible for many unique programs including literacy classes, computer coding training for kids and the LumaCon festival celebrating comic books and reading. He said the measure would allow the Petaluma branch to continue these and expand into new community offerings.
“The library is the heart of the community,” he said. “The library is providing excellent service, but we can do so much more.”
(Contact Matt Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.)