Anticipating an increase in operational costs, members of the North County Library Authority have given the go-ahead for a June 8 ballot proposition that would establish a new 20-year parcel tax.
Pending two-thirds majority voter approval, the new parcel tax would levy $76 annually per developed parcel. The current tax, approved in 1990 and set to expire in tax year 2011-2012, charges $52 annually. The new tax would begin July 1, when the old one lapses.
Supporters said the fee increase is necessary to maintain current hours at the Los Altos main and Woodland libraries.
“If there were no parcel tax, we would immediately have to cut library hours,” said Los Altos City Councilwoman Megan Satterlee, who with Los Altos Hills City Councilman Jean Mordo sits on the North Library board. “This is just keeping things constant.”
The proposed increase came after months of discussion, review of financial models and polling, Satterlee and Mordo said. The additional $24 per year would go toward staff salary increases brought by inflation, book purchases and underwriting elections costs.
The Los Altos main library, one of the busiest in the Santa Clara County Library System, is currently open seven days, 66 hours, per week. The county library system pays for 53 of those hours. The NCLA parcel tax pays for 13 hours, which covers all day Monday and Tuesday mornings. The Woodland branch, currently undergoing renovation and repair, operates 39 hours and six days a week, with 20 hours paid through the county. Supporters said weekly Woodland hours would be reduced 19 hours, or 48 percent, without a parcel tax.
Last fiscal year, Los Altos libraries sponsored 501 programs reaching all ages. Attendance at programs increased 9 percent over the prior year.
Nancy Tucker of Los Altos, campaign coordinator for the parcel tax proposal, noted the widespread use of the local libraries.
“The library is a vital community resource for everyone,” she said. “It is the community’s home-away-from-home.”
The campaign’s challenge will be emphasizing this simple message, because the actual ballot language will not be as direct. The Gann Appropriations Limit, passed in the 1980s on the heels of Proposition 13, dictates that supporters of funding initiatives cannot ask for more than they need. This would be the case in the early years of the parcel tax, but would even out by the end of the 20-year period because of anticipated cost increases. Supporters are required by law to state such information in technical terms. Ballot language is due to the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters by March 12.
The parcel tax election is open to all registered voters in Los Altos and Los Altos Hills.