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Voters to decide library tax on June ballot

POSTED October 11, 2011 9:49 p.m.

A voter supported one-eighth cent sales tax has been the lifeblood of the Stanislaus County Library since its 1995 inception.

But the fate of that sales tax, due to expire in 2013, will be up to voters once again in the June 5, 2012 Primary Election, following the Board of Supervisors’ Tuesday action to place the issue on the ballot for renewal.

The county’s dedicated library sales tax was the first such tax in the state, intended to fund a dwindling library system with a consistent source of revenue rather than rely on the oftentimes unreliable state budget.

“The tax has been a reliable and consistent source of revenue, which is controlled by our taxpayers,” said County Librarian Vanessa Czopek.

The ballot initiative would extend the library tax for five years, through 2018.

Two-thirds of voters must approve the measure for the sales tax to continue. Previously, two-thirds of voters first approved the sales tax for a four year term in 1995, then renewed it for another five years in 1999, then approved an eight year extension in 2004.

Without the tax, county staff said, the library would be forced to drastically reduce its mission.

“It will not exist,” said Supervisor Vito Chiesa. “The library system could not exist in any recognizable form.”

The tax amounts to about $1.66 per month, per household, or about $20 per year. But the small tax adds up to represent 87 percent of county library revenues, raising $107.1 million since its passage.

In 1994, before the tax was implemented, the county libraries were closed as much as they were open, with just 240 hours per week of availability across all branches and 34 total staff members. Today, the branches are open for 474 hours per week, with 133 employees.

Before the tax, the library offered no story times, no children’s programs, no school visits to libraries, and no teen summer reading programs. Today, those services – including 29 story times per week – are considered crucial to the library’s mission of supporting literacy.

That’s especially important in Stanislaus County, Czopek said, where between one-fourth and one-third of the population is functionally illiterate, unable to even use an ATM machine unassisted. To address that population, the library supports adult reading programs, training nearly 1,500 students thus far.

The library has also grown to offer Internet access, job search help, reference materials, and reference assistance – all new services as a result of the 1995 tax. For those concerned only with reading, the tax has quadrupled the number of books and resources the library is able to purchase each year.

The myriad services made possible by the one-eighth cent sales tax – and surging library demand with a declining economy – points to the tax’s true value, Czopek said.

“It benefits everyone,” Czopek said. “The sales tax restored these essential services to our community.”

To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail acantatore@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141, ext. 2005.

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