A deeply divided Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday took the first step toward rescinding a library tax, but left unclear whether it would follow through and overturn the $16-million property assessment.
In a raucous hourlong debate marked by personal attacks and shifting alliances, the board ordered the county tax collector to halt the annual mailing of tax bills until the matter can be sorted out.
At one point, the deliberations became so strained that Supervisor Mike Antonovich joked that he was going to bring in former President Jimmy Carter to negotiate a truce. "And the troops," added Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke.
In the end the board voted to hold a public hearing Oct. 14 on a motion to strike the tax. That session will come six weeks after the board held hearings to establish the tax.
Reconsideration of the library tax will push the county bureaucracy to the limit of its ability to get 2.5 million tax bills prepared and mailed in a timely manner, according to Treasurer/Tax Collector Larry Montheilh. Normally, the mailing process is begun on the fourth Monday of September to make sure that property owners receive statements before the Nov. 1 due date.
On Monday, Supervisor Gloria Molina intervened to halt the property tax mailing, saying bureaucrats were attempting to sneak through the tax that she maintained had only been tentatively approved on Aug. 30.
The assessment would affect property owners in the unincorporated county areas and 16 cities that opted to join the assessment district. The annual fee would cost the average homeowner about $28.50 and could run as high as several hundred or even a few thousand dollars for large commercial or industrial properties.
On Tuesday, Molina charged that county officials were involved in a movida, Spanish for "crooked deal." When the board voted 3 to 2 to establish the assessment, Molina said, she made it clear it was to come back to the board for review before being included on tax bills. However, transcripts from that meeting show that officials had warned Molina that any reconsideration had to be completed by mid-September.
When that did not happen, the officials made plans to follow the normal tax bill timetable, Montheilh said.
By the end of the discussion, Molina said that she has not decided how to vote on the matter. Molina provided the swing vote for approval, and is likely to again cast the pivotal ballot. She said her decision will rest largely on how much of a surplus county officials find as they prepare to close the books on the fiscal year.
Supervisor Ed Edelman said he was disappointed by the prospect that the tax may be rescinded because it could again leave the libraries underfunded.
The county's 89-branch library system has lost 50% of its funding in the past two years as property taxes have been siphoned off for other state and local programs.