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Panel Suggests TV, Video Taxes to Aid Libraries : Funding: A think-tank session in Camarillo produces a host of ideas on how best to revive the resource-dwindling county system.

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SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Lawmakers should enact taxes on cable television and videotape rentals to fund impoverished library systems, a panel of Ventura County movers and shakers suggested Thursday.

The group, only half-kidding about such a tariff, brainstormed inside the Camarillo Library for most of Thursday afternoon on how best to revive the resource-dwindling county library system.

Over the past two years, funding for the Library Services Agency has dropped by 34%, from $10.1 million to $6.7 million. Consequently, 56 of 133 full-time staff positions have been eliminated and money for books and extra help has been slashed from $1.2 million to less than $600,000.

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“Libraries are a quality-of-life issue,” said agency Director Dixie Adeniran, who helped organize the afternoon task force that included county supervisors, school chiefs, librarians and other professionals.

“A culture that has deprived itself of libraries has deprived itself of an important source of comfort, information and enjoyment,” Adeniran said.

The agency serves the unincorporated areas of Ventura County as well as seven of its cities. Thousand Oaks, Oxnard and Santa Paula operate their own library services.

Other potential sources of income for county libraries suggested at the afternoon think tank were more plausible. Coffee and bookshops inside libraries would generate operating revenue, as would user fees for such specialized services as audio booths, panel members said.

Also, selling mock shares of a branch library, a book-delivery service, offering floor space to booksellers for a fee and operating a 900 reference telephone line all would generate funds for the county’s 16 branches, the group suggested.

“When we are faced with having to make budget cuts, people can come up with some very interesting ideas,” Supervisor Maggie Kildee said.

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Without innovative funding reforms, the county library agency could be forced to recommend that the Board of Supervisors impose an additional property tax to cover its costs.

A bill on Gov. Pete Wilson’s desk would allow cities and counties to form benefit assessment districts that would fund library services. The governor, whose aides said Thursday that no decision has been made, has until Oct. 10 to sign or reject the legislation.

Should Wilson sign the bill into law, Adeniran said she would probably approach supervisors before June with a recommendation to establish such a district.

She had no estimate Thursday on the dollar amount of such a tax.

Although the bill would allow an agency to impose the tax for one year without the benefit of an election, any assessment would very likely be placed on a ballot, supervisors said.

“It would be a similar process (as) with the fire assessment,” Supervisor Maria VanderKolk said. “But first we need to let people tell us what they want in a library.”

Proposed property taxes to fund the fire district were derailed earlier this year when the Legislature exempted emergency services from sweeping state budget cuts.

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Several workers and visitors to the Camarillo Library on Thursday did not welcome the idea of paying extra taxes for libraries.

“It seems like any time they need more money, they stick it on the property taxes,” said one library employee, a woman standing by a sign that read: “We need all the help we can get.”

Fred Melvin of Camarillo said he would oppose hiking his property tax to support libraries.

“I don’t think they’re going to take another hit like they did last year,” the retired Navy journalist speculated. “Even if they do, a cutback in the hours isn’t going to hurt anyone.”

Another library employee said top-level agency managers do not spend enough time inside the branches.

“How can they make good decisions for everybody if they don’t come down here to see how their decisions affect the branches?” asked the woman, who did not want to be identified.

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Adeniran said all her managers have come up through the ranks. “They bring that background and experience to their managerial roles,” she said.

But the library agency director also said a program beginning next week will force all managers to spend at least two hours a week directly serving the public.

Not everyone opposes a tax increase to fund libraries. In a quiet corner of the branch, retired school administrator Gary Parks of Simi Valley was thumbing through a paperback and awaiting his wife.

“I believe in society paying for its services,” he said. “I’d rather know that my $20 is going directly to the libraries in Ventura County than being taken in sales tax form and filtered through Sacramento.”

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