Taking sides on tax

The library tax mail-in ballot.

San Jose
– As the registrar prepares to send out ballots for the county’s
first mail-in election, campaigns for and against two parcel tax
measures to fund county libraries are heating up. The local
opposition says it won’t match the library system’s $2 million
effort.
San Jose – As the registrar prepares to send out ballots for the county’s first mail-in election, campaigns for and against two parcel tax measures to fund county libraries are heating up. The local opposition says it won’t match the library system’s $2 million effort.

“A grassroots effort is needed because without getting the word out there it will look like everyone’s happy with the library tax,” anti-tax advocate Mark Zappa said Tuesday. “I will be writing some letters to the editor and I’ll bring it up wherever people will listen to me.”

Gilroy resident Zappa is a member of the Silicon Valley Taxpayers Association, which, along with state and county Libertarian parties and the Santa Clara Valley Republican Assembly, is leading the fight against Measures A and B.

Voters should receive their ballots next week. Measure A would extend the present annual tax of $33.66 for another 10 years. Measure B would assess each parcel an additional $12 a year. Librarians say the renewal is needed to maintain what is a steadily deteriorating financial outlook. The additional levy would allow the system’s nine libraries to reopen on Mondays and restore cuts to the libraries’ books and materials budgets.

For Measure B to pass, Measure A must also pass. If Measure A fails, a parcel tax that raises $5.4 annually for the library system will expire at the end of June. That revenue is ever more critical because libraries have lost some state funding and revenue from vehicle registration taxes. Last year, a $1.1 million budget shortfall forced all nine libraries to close on Mondays.

But opponents of the measures say taxes are the wrong way to fund libraries and that more efficient budgeting – including reducing staff – would make the parcel taxes unnecessary.

“Our position is in keeping with our generic role as defender of people’s property and money,” said Allen Hacker, chairman of the Libertarian Party of Santa Clara County. “This is not the right way to fund a library.”

Hacker said the county should follow the example set in Salinas. That city recently closed all of its public libraries, but has reopened some of them with private financing. He also decried the nearly $2 million the library system is spending on the election.

“The library is spending way too much money to hold an election in the most expensive manner possible,” Hacker said. “We can’t stop it but we have to point it out so they don’t do it this way next time.”

The library system’s governing board had little choice but to hold the ballot in May and absorb the full cost of the election. The next time it could have appeared on what’s known as a consolidated ballot is in November, three months past the August deadline for the levy to appear on next year’s tax bill.

Gilroy Librarian Lani Yoshimura said Tuesday that the two-thirds of system’s budget that goes to staffing is necessary because “personnel translates directly into public service.”

“We can make all kinds of arguments but the real issue is quality of life in Gilroy,” Yoshimura said. “Education not only for children going to school, but also life-long learning for the whole community.”

The measures have been endorsed by all five county supervisors and the Santa Clara County League of Women Voters. The Gilroy Chamber of Commerce has endorsed Measure A but urges a no vote on Measure B.

Zappa and Hacker said they plan to formally campaign against the measure but declined to give details. Hacker is concerned with proponents’ declared strategy of calling residents who do not return their ballots in the early weeks of voting.

“That is effectively a means to try and influence the outcome,” Hacker said. “That’s not much different than politicking at polling places.”

Proponents have been actively fund-raising for several weeks and calling voters to rally support for the measures. They intend to place follow up calls to residents who pledge to vote yes but don’t immediately return their ballots. Former Gilroy High School Librarian Carol Smith said phone polls are showing broad support for the measures, but few Gilroyans have donated to the campaign.

“Fund-raising is lagging because we have not had a major event,” Smith said. “I’m hoping it will pick up with more publicity. We don’t want to feel like we’re the poor church mouse and not doing our part.”

The first big fund raising event in Gilroy will be a April 9 book fair at Barnes & Noble in Gilroy Crossing. A portion of that day’s sales will be donated in support of the measures.

Ballots will be mailed April 4 and must be received by the registrar by May 3. Included in the mailing are a sample ballot with arguments for and against, a ballot and a return envelope. The last day to register is April 18.

The measures require a two-thirds majority to pass. A year ago, a measure on the presidential primary ballot that combined a parcel tax renewal and an additional levy for materials failed by 6 percentage points.

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