Taxing Times for Local Libraries

October 29, 2008 8:57:12 PM PDT
Are you willing to pay a little more when you shop to have access to more and better libraries? Its a decision you'll have to make next week when you vote on a library tax increase known as Measure L.Opponents argue the timing is all wrong but supporters say now is when taxpayers need improved library services the most.

Student Andrea Lawson stops by the Downtown Fresno County Library every day after school she's looking for work.

Andrea Lawson said, "I can't go out much and find a job because of my baby ... so I do as much as I can on the computer."

Lawson's not the only one turning to public libraries during these tough economic times. According to Fresno County Librarian Karen Bosch-Cobb, library use is up 10-percent since July ... 16-percent since last year.

Karen Bosch-Cobb said, "People are in here looking for jobs, people are in here checking out books, they're getting DVD's so they don't have to pay to go to the movies."

What voters are being asked to pay is for an increase in the current library tax ... From an eighth of a cent to a quarter cent for the next sixteen years. That translates to 25 cents for every $100-dollar purchase.

Measure L is estimated to generate between $225 and $335-million dollars for improvements like wireless access, energy efficient lighting, meeting rooms and job-search and afterschool programs at 32 libraries throughout Fresno County. Like this one on Cedar and Clinton, that's been around for more than 30 years.

Karen said, "We moved into those libraries before computers even existed, we've gone in and tried to retrofit them and tried to put in as many computers as we can but its just not enough."

Measure L will also build 16 new libraries ... 12 will be replacements of current facilities, four will be built in areas currently not served. The current tax helped pay for this branch in Fowler. But opponents say the timing is all wrong.

Chris Mathys of San Joaquin Taxpayers Assoc. said, "When we're replacing one tax with another what we're doing is incurring more debt."

Chris Mathys says voters should wait to decide on a new tax until the current one expires in 4 years.

Chris Mathys said, "Tough economic times, people are getting laid off, they are having a hard time financially, the last thing we need is another tax."

Bosch-Cobb sees it as an investment in the community.

Bosch-Cobb said, "If you think about what happened during great depression, we took care of ourselves. We realized it was a tough time and we invested in ourselves with resources that made our community better."

Measure L would expire in 2025 ... And requires two-thirds approval to pass.

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