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Local group rallies for library tax

POSTED March 9, 2012 9:12 p.m.

The Friends of the Turlock Public Library will be kicking off the Save Stanislaus Libraries — Yes on T campaign at a community event to be held from 10 a.m. to noon on March 24 at the Carnegie Arts Center.

Turlock Mayor John Lazar and Stanislaus County Supervisor Vito Chiesa are expected to speak at the event.

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 Primary Election.

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 in October 2011, after the board of supervisors voted to put the tax on the June ballot.

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.

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.

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