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Library tax measure may be on ballot

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The county’s library system could improve hours and services if the Board of Supervisors approves a one-eighth-cent tax measure for 10 years, that the electorate could vote on in the November general election.

The proposed one-eighth-cent sales tax could raise an estimated $8 million a year for the financially-strapped library system. As a specialized tax, it would require a two-thirds majority to pass.

Mary Evelyn Arnold, who has been a library commissioner for six years, but will be off the commission on Friday, thinks the tax is a good idea.

“I have high hopes the supervisors will put the tax on the ballot,” she said. “I think people will support both a road tax and a library tax.”

Currently, the libraries exist on property taxes with a budget of about $15 million a year.

“We used to get state money from different sources, but that’s all been eliminated over the last couple of years,” she said.

Having just a single stream of funding, such as property taxes, can be dicey when the economy goes south, like it did a couple of years ago.

“Or funding has been flat,” she said. “But our expenses have been going up. We have two choices – we can use our reserves, but that’ll only last a couple of years. Or we can cut services. We’ve already cut services and it would be awful to cut more.”

Several years ago, the libraries started shutting on Mondays and are now open only 40 hours a week.

“Without increased revenues, those are our options,” she said. “People don’t like to hear that.”

Arnold said the increased funding would make a huge difference, and suggested that the system could restore its previous hours, open a branch in Roseland in southwest Santa Rosa, and increase its materials budget. “With a flat budget, we’re buying less because of increased costs,” she added.

She pointed out that the entire system could use a lot of modernization.

“We’ve got nine branches and some haven’t been touched since they opened more than 50 years ago,” she said. “There’s a lot of deferred needs.”

Under a new joint powers agreement, Arnold will be relinquishing her seat as the new board will reflect a city-makeup as opposed to a county-oriented makeup, and will expand from seven members to 11. Former mayor JoAnne Sanders will become the Sonoma representative on the revamped board.

The public hearing is scheduled for 10 a.m. today in the board of supervisors chambers, 575 Administration Drive, Santa Rosa.