City Debates Library Tax Renewal

City leaders on Tuesday will consider placing a measure to extend an about-to-expire library parcel tax on the June ballot.

Revenue from the assessment makes up a quarter of the budget to run San Jose libraries and, unless continued, would sunset in 2015 and force the city to slash hours and lay off 50 employees.

The 10-year library tax voters approved in 2004, costs the average homeowner $25 a year and generates about $8 million annually. The measure, if first approved by the council, would give voters the option to extend it for another 25 years and run close to $30 a year for the average household.

Even with the tax, the city has had to cut library hours in response to a decade of budget cuts, which resulted in a tremendous drop in library use. Four years ago, the city logged 8.1 million visits and 15.4 million checked-out items. Last year, the city saw only 5.8 million visits and 10.7 million items checked out after reducing collective library hours from 931 to 814 a week.

In an article last week, the Washington Post pointed to San Jose’s library troubles—that they’re closed three days a week—as a sign that the city is headed for service insolvency while an ever-increasing chunk of the budget goes to gold-plated pensions. It’s still an improvement over a couple years ago, when the city lacked money altogether to staff four brand-new library branches it spent $80.5 million to build.

But city-commissioned polling suggests that residents are willing to pay extra taxes to avoid service reductions. A November survey of 800 likely voters showed that 66 percent would approve the measure, which aligns with the two-thirds majority needed to pass a tax. A more recent survey, conducted in the middle of last month, showed even more support, with 84 percent of those polled saying they’d vote to extend the tax.

City leaders expect little opposition to the measure, considering the library system’s popularity. In addition to the nearly 6 million documented visits to city libraries last year, 200,000 people attended library workshops and 89,000 more participated in literacy programs at the city’s 23 library branches. The 2004 measure passed with 67 percent of the vote.

Half the council signed their name to a memo expressing support for the ballot measure, saying the libraries are a critical public service. It would cost the city $505,000 to place it on the June 3 ballot.

San Jose residents may have another tax measure to weigh in on later this year. Councilmember Xavier Campos is pushing to land a half-cent sales tax on the November ballot to pay for more police officers.

More from the San Jose City Council agenda for March 4, 2014:

  • Since the 9/11 attacks in 2001, law enforcement agencies have teamed up to form vast data-sharing networks. Locally, that network is called the South Bay Information Sharing System, a partnership among San Jose, the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office and virtually every other law enforcement agency in the region. The council will consider renewing an agreement to continue participating in the program initiated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as part of a national anti-terrorism effort.
  • An audit released last year pointed to a problem with the city’s wide range of consulting agreements—many of them were being approved without the right authorization and monitoring. A contract between the San Jose Police Department and a computer-aided dispatch provider was cited as an example. The SJPD had renewed a contract with the company four times without running it by the council for proper, legal approval. A motion going before the council this week seeks approval for some $203,000 already spent and a $47,000 contract extension through next year.
  • The city’s sponsoring a screening of When Women Come Marching Home, a film about the challenges faced by female military veterans transitioning back to civilian life.
  • To operate more efficiently and effectively, the city needs to grant its retirement system governing boards full autonomy, according to a city audit. A change like that would either require a city charter amendment OK’d by the voting public or creating a public-private partnership akin to work2future and Team San Jose. The city’s starting to talk about which option to take.
  • Councilmember Pierluigi Oliverio’s public safety financing plan comes to a vote this week. The council will decide whether to place a measure on the ballot that would give voters the option of requiring the city to allocate 40 percent of the general fund budget for police. Right now, about 30 percent of the budget goes to the SJPD. Here’s what the ballot language may look like:

oliveriopolice

  • Some of the city’s economic goals over the past several years have been to bring more manufacturing jobs to San Jose, fill empty storefronts and speed up permitting to encourage more companies to locate to the capital of Silicon Valley. The council will review its progress on that economic strategy spelled out in more detail here.

WHAT: City Council meets
WHEN: 1:30 pm Tuesday
WHERE: City Hall, 200 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose
INFO: City Clerk, 408.535.1260

Jennifer Wadsworth is a staff writer for San Jose Inside and Metro Newspaper. Email tips to jenniferw@metronews.com or follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.

One Comment

  1. There are County libraries and school libraries, in addition to ubiquitous internet access throughout the City. San Jose gets plenty of tax money, which is summarily squandered on non-essential services… Such as “child care” at libraries. Also, Mayor Reed traveling to Washington DC bi-monthly to lobby for illegal legislation. Vote NO on all tax increases/continuations until our elected leaders prioritize core services.

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