To Be, Or Not To Be …

Posted on July 2, 2011 by  
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One of the defining social characteristics of any community, is the quality of its local library.  Generally, the library is the center of a community seeking, and sharing, knowledge.

In Los Altos, our libraries are a an example of excellence.  The circulation of materials is one of the highest in the State.  The local library system also has a strong support network in the “Friends of the Library.”  More importantly, whenever there is an election to strengthen the local libraries (financially, operationally, etc.), the measure passes with 80% of the vote.

Unfortunately, the local library system is anchored together with other communities who must also vote on the same county library measures.  Those communities have a much lower desire on improving the overall county library system, with less than 55% voting in favor of ballot measures in some communities … when 66.7% is needed to pass.

Recently, Diana Samuels (Daily News) wrote an article about a recent vote by the Los Altos City Council, regarding evaluating alternatives to the existing structure.  Below, is an slightly edited version.  Enjoy …

Los Altos and Los Altos Hills may split with the county to form their own library system in an effort to save money and gain more control over their book-lending institutions.

City councils in both cities recently voted to begin studying the ramifications of withdrawing from the Santa Clara County library system, which currently operates both the Los Altos Library and Woodland branch in Los Altos.

The North County Library Authority, the agency that manages a parcel tax that provides extra money for libraries in Los Altos, will fund and conduct the $120,000 study, Los Altos Hills Council Member Jean Mordo said.

Taxpayers in both cities provide about 22 percent of the property tax revenues that go into the county library system. But because of a complicated funding formula that takes into account population, property tax revenue and other factors, Mordo said, Los Altos libraries only get about 17 percent of those property taxes back. He calculates the shortfall at about $1.5 million, which goes to county libraries in South County cities such as Morgan Hill and Milpitas.

“I think it’s reasonable to let the county know that we’re concerned,” Los Altos Council Member David Casas said at a meeting Tuesday where the council voted 3-2 to support the study. “We’re subsidizing other communities, for services that our residents do not have access to.”

In addition, Mayor Ron Packard wrote in a report, Los Altos’ libraries are staffed by county employees who have “far more generous,” county-negotiated salaries and benefits, compared with city employees. The libraries could also save money with help from volunteers or part-time employees, but union contracts frequently prohibit them from working at the libraries, Packard said.

Mordo said he also disagrees with the county’s decision to begin charging an $80 annual library card fee today to patrons who live in cities outside the system. He called the fee “unneighborly”.

Whether Los Altos separates from the County Library system, is yet to be determined.  Having a clear articulated set options available to the decision makers is critical on determining the right course of action.  One thing is certain, if Los Altos does create its own system, it will be the envy of Silicon Valley.

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