• Deirdre McCrohan

Measure B: Parcel tax would nearly double to support free-library system

Voters who live in Strawberry and unincorporated areas of Tiburon will be asked to approve a $98 annual county library tax on the Nov. 8 ballot, a 70-percent increase over what they’re being assessed now.


Measure B, supporting the Marin County Free Library system, seeks renewal of the existing $57.56-a-year parcel tax plus an additional $40 per year, with an annual escalator of up to 3 percent. Over its nine-year life, it’s expected to raise $4.7 million for the library system. The measure requires two-thirds’ approval to pass.


The tax applies only to property owners in unincorporated areas and in cities whose libraries are part of the Marin County Free Library system, such as the Corte Madera, Marin City and Civic Center libraries, though property owners 65 or older would be exempt. It will not apply to or appear on ballots of those in communities that have an independent city or community-owned library, such as Tiburon and Belvedere.


The tax was last renewed with 78.5-percent support in 2014, at an initial $49 with an annual escalator. It brings in about $2.8 million a year, or about 13 percent of the system’s revenue. An independent citizen-oversight committee will monitor the expenditure of funds, and annual audits will be required for the new parcel tax, as is required now.


The Measure B ballot language says that the tax proceeds would be used to repair aging libraries, retrofit older libraries with needed technology and ensure the library can maintain its existing hours and staff levels.


“The library facilities are over 50 years old, and a there has been a lot of change in what people need from libraries, including current technology and an electrical system to support it,” system Director Lana Adlawan said in a telephone interview. “That’s quite an investment. Part of the tax proceeds will go to providing those facilities. People who answered our 2021-2022 survey were really clear that they want more books and more electronic books. We have a great community of readers.


“We are always trying to meet the needs of the Marin community, and the parcel tax will allow us to do that and to plan for the future,” she said. “The cost of doing services in a post-COVID environment has increased.”


The ballot argument urging approval was signed by Ann Wakeley, president of the League of Women Voters of Marin County, along with Novato Mayor Eric Lucan, Marin Superintendent of Schools Mary Jane Burke, Friends of Marin City Library President Wyna J. Barron and San Geronimo Valley Community Center Executive Director David Cort. No opposing arguments were submitted.


They said the increased parcel tax would keep library branches from being closed; repair leaking roofs and siding; replace deteriorating foundations and building heating-and-cooling systems; pay for increasing books and electronic-book collections; maintain library hours and 24/7 online library access; and maintain library services for seniors, residents with disabilities and families.


“The League of Women Voters is very supportive of public libraries,” Wakeley said in an interview. “We think they’re an important element of our democracies. We really love the work that Marin County Free Library does. They provide services above and beyond. It’s a very rich set of programs to meet the needs of lots of different groups of people.”


Burke said there is unprecedented collaboration between Marin schools and the library.


“There are several opportunities that the library provides for our preschool and school-age children, which include access to digital content; support for kindergarten readiness; the learning bus, which is a mobile preschool; summer programs for students; and they partner with us on a variety of committees,” she said. “These are the kinds of programs that would not be possible without the measure passing.”


In addition to the Corte Madera, Marin City and Civic Center libraries, the Marin County Free Library system includes Bolinas, Fairfax, Inverness, Novato, South Novato, Point Reyes, Stinson Beach and two bookmobiles.


The Marin Board of Supervisors voted 4-0 to approve the ballot language on July 12 and again July 19 to adopt a resolution putting it on the ballot. Supervisor Stephanie Moulton-Peters, representing Southern Marin, was absent for both meetings.


The July 12 vote followed a public hearing at which Brian Godbe of Godbe Research presented the results of a poll that his firm conducted in February 2022 about receptivity to a tax increase. The poll was commissioned and paid for by Friends of the Marin County Free Library and Marin County Library Foundation.


The poll found that 79 percent of those surveyed were either very satisfied or somewhat satisfied with services.


The survey, divided into two sample groups, showed that more than 76 percent would probably or definitely support another ballot measure, with 18 percent saying they probably or definitely wouldn’t, and the rest saying they didn’t know.


The second sample yielded nearly identical results.


“We’re all behind this measure, and we’re ready to get out and volunteer and support the campaign,” Virginia Schultz, president of Friends of Marin County Free Library, said at the July 12 supervisors meeting. “I urge you to put it on the ballot.”


But audience member James Holmes of Larkspur, who called into the meeting, said, “As much as I support the Marin County library system, doubling the tax amount would be an unreasonable overreach.”


“Doubling the tax rate seems especially unwise when we’re all facing an economic downturn, and people are increasingly hard-pressed by rampant inflation,” he said. “Not all taxpayers here are rich, nor are we indifferent to big tax hikes. I believe the tax hike is unsupported by the survey and polling data referenced in the staff report. Both survey and polling respondents expressed satisfaction with the current library service level and believe they met community needs.”


Holmes said the board should consider supporting a more modest increase in the tax.


Resident Clayton Smith said he is a great lover of books but, nevertheless, agreed with Holmes in his call for a more modest increase.


Adlawan said she considers the increase as proposed to be modest.


A needs assessment for the library system conducted in 2015 found that the library would need $5 million for all needed facilities work, she said. She said loss of the parcel tax would be a tremendous hit, as the library system would have to reduce collections and reduce hours.


Adlawan said the public survey spoke “to the need of more” from the library system.


“Without passage of the parcel-tax measure and an increase, we will not be able to keep the status quo, and that’s what we’re looking to the future to do, and expand that status quo. We’re stretching as we can with our existing budget to provide excellent service.”


County Administrator Matthew Hymel said the county is proposing an increase for nine years, instead of the 18 years originally proposed, “so we can prove ourselves.”


Reach Tiburon reporter Deirdre McCrohan at 415-944-4634.

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