"If it does not pass we are looking at a 53% reduction we'll be having to close branches and I'm not saying that to scare people that's the reality. We'll close several branches we'll lay off probably half the staff."
Chief Librarian Laural Prysiazny gave that message to the Fresno County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, urging their support for putting an extension of the Measure B sales tax on the ballot in the November election.
The 1/8th of a cent sales tax amounts to 12.5 cents in tax for every one hundred dollar purchase. It raises $12 million a year. First approved in 1998 and reauthorized in 2004 it dramatically improved the County's library system. Eight branches were built or remodeled, operating hours were more than doubled, and the libraries increased their spending on books, DVD's and other materials by five times. Computers and WIFI systems were added throughout the county.
Supervisor Henry Perea hopes it can all be maintained. "Because going backward and to go back a library system that was pre 1998 that would be sad for a community that is approaching a million people."
Other supervisors voiced their support.
Phil Larson said he visits libraries in his district at least three times a month. "I have never been in one of them yet that the computers aren't busy and kids aren't coming in and out. Adults during the day. They are very well used."
Supervisor Judy Case added, "I think it is very important particularly because we need an educated population we need educated kids and educated adults and it's a really important part of that."
But while the extension won't raise taxes it comes during difficult economic times and a state sales tax measure pushed by the Governor is expected to be on the ballot.
Former County Librarian Karen Bosch Cobb is with Friends of the Library. The group is launching a citizens campaign to urge public support for Measure B.
"We know this is going to be a really tough election," Cobb told the board. "The simple truth is that for Fresno County this is one of the most important measures on the ballot."
The supervisors will decide in April whether to put the measure before the voters in November. It will require a 2/3rds majority to pass. The current Measure B expires in March of next year.
While Measure B has won approval in the past, another effort at library funding called "Measure L" was rejected by voters in 2008. It would have replaced Measure B's 1/8 of a cent tax with a 1/4 of a penny levy.