Culver City to Consider Tax District to Aid Libraries : Funds: Officials will decide Monday whether to join the special parcel district. So far, 10 cities have voted to participate. The plan would raise about $30 million.
Culver City officials will decide Monday whether to join a special parcel tax assessment district that would help restore library services to their levels before the recent county budget crisis stripped funds from the branches.
Under the plan proposed by the County Board of Supervisors last month, property owners in cities covered by the county library system such as Culver City would be charged $28.50 per parcel. Owners of multifamily residential properties would pay $21.38 per unit.
The county library system operates 87 branches serving 3.3 million people in 52 cities and 28 unincorporated communities. Library officials say they hope to raise $30 million from the levy.
So far 10 cities, including West Hollywood and Malibu, have voted to join the so-called Community Facilities District, similar to special assessment districts that help pay for such services as fire protection and flood prevention in some areas. Sixteen cities have balked, primarily over concerns about additional taxes.
All month, information sessions sponsored by county library officials have been held in the cities and communities they serve. The 28 libraries in the unincorporated areas, which are governed by the Board of Supervisors, would automatically become part of the library district; each incorporated city’s council must vote to join. Those that do not do so may see further cuts in service to their branches because they would not receive the extra funds from the parcel tax.
The supervisors decided to see how the cities voted before formally considering the proposal on Aug. 30. If approved, the charge will be reflected in November tax bills. County library officials said that each year the Board of Supervisors will reconsider the levy.
County Librarian Sandra Reuben said if the plan is not approved, the library will have to continue to rely on funding from the state, which could mean more cutbacks in services. The libraries were first hit with budget cuts in 1992 when the state borrowed money from counties to cover its deficit. Last year, the state took $600 million in property taxes from the county, which led to the libraries’ cuts in hours and personnel.
“I have $7.5 million less than what I need to run the libraries for the rest of the year,” Reuben said. “If the (district) is not enacted, we will have to drastically trim back materials and staff. We’ve already been stretched to the breaking point.”
In addition to the Culver City library, there are county-run libraries in Marina del Rey and View Park; Culver City’s library is the largest and most heavily used of the three.
Culver City library manager Josie Zoretich said that since last year’s budget cuts, one full-time employee was laid off and six part-timers left because of the reduced hours, leaving the staff at six full-timers and 16 part-timers. The library, once open 63 hours and seven days a week, has been reduced to 28 hours, four days a week. Culver City library’s 1991-92 materials budget (books, periodicals and audiovisual equipment) was $136,000, but the next year only $48,674 was allocated. Zoretich said after the budget cuts they had to cancel subscriptions to 300 newspapers, magazines and government document materials.
Council members last week had mixed feelings about the plan, which will be the subject of a public hearing during the Monday City Council meeting at 7 p.m. Mayor Albert Vera said he favored the proposal, calling it “a little token of appreciation from the citizens.” Councilman Steve Gourley said he was on the fence about it because he believes the county misspends its funds.
If Culver City officials decline to join the district, Zoretich said the library will have to cut its hours to open only twice a week. “That would be such a waste of resources,” Zoretich said.
Yet, although city officials say most Culver City residents welcome the prospect of restored services guaranteed by the new funding source, there is apprehension about the library tax.
“Everybody is going to object to being taxed,” said David Miller, a longtime Culver City resident who wants to keep the library open more hours, but is opposed to the tax. Miller said he is angry that county officials did not see financing the library as a priority in the first place.
A parent with two school-age children, Shelley Shapiro said she usually votes for taxes that will support libraries and schools. But she wonders if the libraries will benefit at all from the parcel tax. “It’s like the Lotto. I wonder if (county officials) will spend the money somewhere else.”
Reuben said the money collected from the library tax cannot be used in any other area, and will be applied to the city library branch where the fees are collected.
Meanwhile, county library officials are awaiting the passage of an Assembly bill that would prevent the further shift of property tax from county libraries.
Reuben said she is disappointed that more cities haven’t voted to join the district. Those cities that don’t join, she added, will see further cuts in library services, and some may have to close. Among the cities that have said no are Avalon, Hidden Hills and Manhattan Beach, which is looking into subsidizing its branch.