The Marin County Board of Supervisors is set to decide whether to place a library tax measure on the Nov. 8 ballot.
The measure would renew the tax on packages supporting the Marin County Free Library and increase it to $98 per package.
The tax, which is set to expire on June 30, 2024, generated about $2.8 million in revenue in the 2021-22 fiscal year.
“The package tax takes about 13% of our budget,” said Lana Adlawan, director of the Marin County Free Library. “If we don’t pass this parcel tax, we will have to rethink our service levels.”
The supervisors will address the issue during their meeting on Tuesday.
When supervisors discussed the package tax proposal on July 12, Adlawan said the cuts could include reductions in the amount of reading material available or hours of library service.
The Marin County Free Library is a special tax district that spans unincorporated areas of Marin County as well as Fairfax, Novato, and Corte Madera. Property taxes accounted for nearly $15 million of its $18 million in budgeted revenue for the 2021-22 fiscal year.
The parcel tax was first approved by nearly 75% of district voters on June 8, 2010; the tax was then $49 per package. At the time, county property tax revenues were collapsing due to the Great Recession and falling home assessments. The library had an annual deficit of about $1 million, despite a 12% reduction in its budget and the closure of the San Geronimo Valley Library.
The parcel tax was rolled over to $49 in 2014 with the support of more than 78% of voters in the district.
Despite the revenue generated by the tax, the district had a budget shortfall of $2.4 million in fiscal year 2021-22. County Administrator Matthew Hymel said the district may have ended the year with a deficit closer to $1 million, as much of that deficit came from money budgeted for salaries. who were ultimately not paid due to unfilled positions. The library has the equivalent of 111 full-time employees.
The property tax amount has increased because it includes a provision for an annual consumer price index adjustment of up to 3%.
“The current package tax is just under $58,” Adlawan said, “so that’s a modest increase we’re asking for. We can only maintain our status quo and our excellent service if we consider d other financing options for the future.
Adlawan said when the system’s facilities were last assessed in 2015, it was estimated that about $5 million in work was needed.
In addition to its main library at the Marin County Civic Center, the system has nine branches throughout the county as well as the Bookmobile and Learning Bus.
System operations have been restricted by the pandemic. In the 2020-21 financial year, it received only 50,368 visitors, compared to 921,126 the previous year. Hardware cases grew from nearly 1.2 million items to 858,030 during this period.
Adlawan told supervisors on July 12 that while the use of digital materials has exceeded that of traditional materials during the pandemic, the circulation of traditional items has once again exceeded the demand for digital items.
In addition to reading material, the library provides access to computers, free wireless connections and reading activities for children. The library also has 79 Chromebooks and Wi-Fi hotspots that members can borrow for up to two weeks.
A poll taken in February indicates that voters in the Library District would support an increase in the parcel tax. Bryan Godbe, president of Godbe Research, which polled 602 likely voters in the district, found that more than 75% said they would support raising the tax to $98 per package and renewing it until the end by the electors.
Godbe said 78% would support raising the tax to $98 and renewing it for 18 years, and 80% would support renewing the tax if it is not increased. A two-thirds majority would be required to renew the tax.
“I encourage you to put it on the ballot. We are ready to come out and support the campaign,” Ginny Schultz, president of the Friends of the Free Library of Marin County, told supervisors at the July 12 meeting.
Not all audience members were so enthusiastic.
“Double the tax rate seems particularly reckless when we are all facing an economic downturn and people are being hit harder and harder by runaway inflation,” said James Holmes of Larkspur. “Not all taxpayers here are wealthy, and we are not indifferent to big tax hikes.”
Clayton Smith said there was no shortage of libraries in Marin, but added that “in all these libraries they are rather deficient in number of books and in quality of books”.
“They’re mostly places to sit and maybe catch up on some magazines,” Smith said, “or sometimes they have exhibits or meetings held there.”