No one wants to pay more taxes. But the supplemental parcel tax for Sacramento’s public libraries – $12 a year for single-family homes – is well worth it.
Today’s libraries are much more than places to check out books. They are neighborhood gathering places, classrooms and computer centers – and they deserve the community’s support.
City voters get their say on June 3. To pass, Measure B needs to win a two-thirds majority – a high hurdle. So while there is no organized opposition, proponents are taking no chances and are out in the community drumming up support.
If approved, the additional levy would be on top of the existing library parcel tax of $30 a year for single-family homes and would raise $1.9 million a year – enough to preserve services at all 12 city library branches. The supplemental tax would last 12 years and could increase with inflation, as much as 3 percent a year. It would line up with the current library tax, which, if voters renew it in two years, would also expire in 2026.
By ordinance and policy, the additional money would not supplant any of the $7.1 million the library system is now getting from the city’s general fund, or the $507,000 it is receiving from the Measure U local sales tax hike. The new money would mean financial stability for a library system that has nearly emptied its reserves and has too often been pitted against public safety for funding. Combined with generous support by Friends of the Sacramento Public Library and the Sacramento Public Library Foundation – totaling about $550,000 a year – it would set the stage for some improvements.
Sacramento Public Library Director Rivkah Sass told The Bee’s editorial board that her priorities would be keeping branches open longer, including possible Sunday hours; replacing old books; and making more electronic services available.
If the ballot measure is defeated, she warns that services will be cut and some branches might have to close. Because they have no bond debt, the first on the chopping block are older branches in neighborhoods that need them the most. That is unacceptable.
While Measure B’s supporters have arguments on their side, they are on some tricky political terrain. Some homeowners, already hit with water and sewer rate hikes, will be wary about adding to their tax bill. California’s track record for local library taxes is mixed: Since 2001, 35 have passed, but 34 failed.
Some voters may be concerned about the 2008 overbilling scandal that led to criminal convictions and the library director’s resignation. Sass has helped clean up the mess and there’s accountability through annual audits.
While seeking more money, library officials are also making the case that they’re doing lots of great things and winning awards with what they have. Library cards, branch visits and program attendance are all up. The system has a popular 3-D printer that led to a patent. It soon will offer an online high school diploma.
The success the libraries are having, however, is a reason to invest more so they can offer more – not an excuse to starve them of resources. Another $1 a month is a small price to pay to build on the progress and keep Sacramento’s libraries strong.