SAN FERNANDO : Library Tax Set for a Special Election
Bowing to pressure from merchants and residents, the San Fernando City Council has decided to hold an election next year to determine if the city will join the county in creating a special district to tax property owners to preserve public libraries.
Although council members declared a victory for voters, who are often powerless to determine their taxation, library officials said waiting for an election will prevent the San Fernando branch of the Los Angeles County Public Library from receiving funds this year from a proposed Community Facilities District.
“This is part of a new trend to take it to the voters,” Councilman Raul Godinez II said.
“It’s certainly a loss,” said Judith Babka, manager of the 80-year-old San Fernando branch. “It means we will have to go from being open three days a week to two.”
The proposed special library district would charge property owners $28.50 a year for a single-family house to support the city’s library, where budget cuts have reduced service from six days a week to three. During the past three years, the library’s materials budget has been slashed from $48,500 to $500, with no funding for 1994-95.
So far, only three of 52 cities in the county have signed on to the district, which would raise about $28.5 million for library operations. The San Fernando branch would receive about $176,000.
The city has until Aug. 30, when the Board of Supervisors will consider the proposal, to sign on for this year.
Prior to the council meeting, Babka led about 40 supporters in a three-block march from the San Fernando branch on Library Street to City Hall. The marchers, carrying colorful, handmade signs, chanted, “Save San Fernando Library.”
Their cries for help were soon joined by other residents who had come to the meeting to support the library.
“Twenty years ago, when I came to this country, the people in the library were the only ones who helped me learn the language,” Juanita Garcia, 43, told the City Council. “We need that library.”
But other residents and merchants weren’t so willing to turn over their money. Brad Buckley, president of the San Fernando Chamber of Commerce, told the council that the property tax would “further strain many businesses already struggling to keep their doors open.” Others resented being the last resort of government budget crises.
Many opponents of the property tax said they supported the local library, but suggested that the city find other ways to fund the service. Recommendations included using rent generated from the old police station, cutting city administrative salaries and charging a non-resident library fee.
City Council members agreed that voters should have more control.
“I feel this is against Proposition 13,” said Councilman Doude Wysebeek, who made the motion to hold an election on the financing district in March. “They can 30-dollar us to death all the time.”
Meanwhile, other mechanisms to fund county libraries are at work, including a bill passed Tuesday by the Assembly that would create a benefit assessment district to fund local libraries.
Authored by state Sen. David Roberti (D-Van Nuys), the bill would create a benefit assessment district similar to the facilities district. If approved by voters, the district would raise the same $28.5 million for county libraries by taxing single-family homes $28.50 annually, but without requiring city approval.
However, the bill must go to Gov. Pete Wilson, who last year vetoed an earlier version. He has not indicated whether he would approve it this time.