For the fifth time in 22 years, Stanislaus County voters will consider a tax to support libraries, and this time it could be renewed for 12 years.
Stanislaus County supervisors voted Tuesday evening to put an extension of the 1/8-cent library tax on the November ballot.
If approved by voters countywide, the small sales tax that supports county libraries will be renewed until the year 2030.
Since its inception in 1995, revenue from the 1/8-percent tax has averaged $7.2 million a year, funding 88 percent of the operations and service costs at the 13 branch libraries.
A dozen years would be the longest renewal for the library-funding mechanism, though the law allows up to 16 years with voter approval. More than 80 percent of voters favored a 5-year renewal of the library tax in June 2012. It is scheduled to expire July 1, 2018.
Polling by Godbe Research last year revealed solid voter support for a 12-year extension. The November ballot measure will require two-thirds approval.
The county has mostly used a local tax to fund its libraries since 1995. Back then, the financial relationships between the state and counties had shifted money to other priorities. The county’s smaller libraries were open only 10 hours a week, and the lights were on at the Modesto library just five days a week. Patrons had limited access to reference services.
The Library Advisory Board, and then county Librarian Starrett Kreissman, developed the 1/8-cent sales tax proposal to revitalize libraries. The original measure was approved in March 1995, and extensions won approval from voters in 1999, 2004 and 2012.
Today, the libraries in Modesto, Ceres, Turlock, Salida, Oakdale, Riverbank, Patterson and Waterford are open six days a week. The Denair, Empire, Hughson, Keyes and Newman libraries serve the public five days a week.
Officials report rising circulation numbers for books, DVDs, books on compact discs, newspapers and magazines, and the library has a variety of electronic books, audio books, movies and music.
County supervisors approved the request for another ballot measure without much discussion Tuesday evening.
“It is needed,” Supervisor Terry Withrow said Wednesday. “Without the tax, the money for libraries is going to come out of the general fund and it would take away from other services. The libraries have been modernized and adapted to the needs of the community.”
Supervisor Jim DeMartini said the 1/8-cent tax is the only realistic way to fund libraries. “It has worked for quite awhile and we might as well continue with it or services will be cut severely,” he said. “If it’s renewed for 12 years, it gives the library more stable funding.”
Not everyone supports the library tax.
“I think the county should live within their means like everybody else,” said Georgianna McDonald of Modesto. “The county is supposed to pay for the libraries. They went to the taxpayers when they fell on hard times and they keep passing this.”
County Librarian Diane McDonnell said the local tax revenue pays for operations, but a 12-year renewal “allows us to plan for improvements because we know what the funding will be from year to year.”
The county has a number of projects in the works, including a new library for Empire and an expansion that will double the size of the Turlock branch.
McDonnell said other projects are upgrading the interiors of the Denair and Waterford libraries.
In addition, the Modesto library will add a “makerspace” or technology center where people try out robotics, laser-cutter sewing machines and virtual reality equipment.
McDonnell said that not every child can visit the library. Three staff members reach out to provide story times at schools and talk to parents about improving their children’s reading skills. The library plans to add a fourth employee to the outreach team.
“There are so many benefits to going long-term with this renewal,” McDonnell said.
Ken Carlson: 209-578-2321, @KenCarlson16