MENDOCINO Co 6/27/2022 – During the 2017 wildfires, members of the Willits community flocked to the public library to use its free wifi to contact friends and family.
At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, librarians at the Fort Bragg Public Library helped patrons find books to answer health questions.
And in the heart of downtown Point Arena, the public library serves as a community hub for the town’s 400 residents to enjoy free wifi or say hello to the two full-time librarians.
The five branches of the Mendocino County Library serve as information centers, community centers and shelters, branch managers said. The services provided — computer access, book payments, wifi hotspot payments and more — are free and often essential people can’t find elsewhere, said Willits branch manager Giselle Delotch.
Funding for a “community center”
Library supporters hope to continue these services in their communities by passing a countywide sales tax ballot measure to increase funding for county libraries. The Citizens Library Committee Initiative has submitted petition signatures for a special quarter-cent sales tax to be placed on the November ballot.
“When we passed Measure A 11 years ago…county libraries were in a death spiral,” said the committee’s Michael Schaeffer. “The original library tax was called Measure A, we passed it with a 75% vote, and it gave us an eighth of a cent sales tax that totally revived the library.”
Money raised through Measure A covers about 70% of library budgets, Schaeffer said.
The proposed tax is a combination of a sales tax renewal of one-eighth of a cent from the original library funding of Measure A and another sales tax of one-eighth of a cent that would replace a temporary tax on mental health facilities passed in 2017. Therefore, the quarter-cent sales tax would not increase existing taxes.
About 40% of library sales tax revenue would go to deferred maintenance for each library. To address growing problems, libraries have had to dip into funds to buy new books and pay staff salaries – a practice that in some cases has hampered core library functions.
“In the 11 years since Measure A was passed, we’ve had to take money out of the operating expenses of new roofs, new carpets, new furniture,” Schaeffer said. “And so we came back this time with a measure to increase a tax from an eighth of a cent to a tax of a quarter of a cent, and 40% of that total money will be set aside for capital expenditures that will stop the drain on our operating expenses. ”
Some construction costs are covered by money raised by the various Friends of the County Library non-profit groups. The Friends raise funds for libraries to buy new books and equipment and occasionally for building maintenance. The Friends of Fort Bragg Library raised funds for the expansion of this branch building currently underway.
Having secure sales tax funding would allow projects to be accelerated and others to be launched. The money can also be used to match grants and pay off loans taken out for building maintenance.
Ukiah Library identified a need to expand its building after conducting a needs assessment, and Willits Library is in need of a roof replacement, Schaeffer said. Some branches hope to move towards solar power, which the sales tax could cover in the future.
Most of the funding will go towards hiring and retaining librarians and purchasing updated books and materials. This will keep the libraries afloat and enable them to offer community programs and workshops, said Fort Bragg Branch Librarian Dan Hess.
“Friends groups provide most of the funding for the actual programs, so taxpayer funding is actually used to keep the core alive and relevant,” Hess said. “We are always relevant to what the political situation is, the health [situation]… We had books on pandemics, historical responses to pandemics, the context of your life.
“The library is that piece of the puzzle that helps you see the big picture,” Hess continued.
Branch manager Delotch, who has worked at the Willits Library since 2019, has seen support for the library grow, especially after the coronavirus pandemic. People came to the library to find books and movies to keep them entertained while at home, to read the free newspapers provided by the library, and to access free wifi and public computers.
She also knows the library and its amenities used by homeless people to charge their devices at library charging stations or by people during natural disasters looking for shelter or information.
“It was the wildfires of 2017 where this place was just packed with people for information because it was the only place they could,” Delotch said. “There are underestimates, I think, of our value as a community hub. We really are a community hub, libraries are no longer really silent dens where everyone is supposed to be absolutely silent.
A competing sales tax
The Citizens Committee for the Library Initiative has spent the past few months collecting signatures throughout Mendocino County to get the sales tax measure on the November ballot. The measure will only require a simple majority of votes to pass and funds from the sales tax will go into a special fund reserved only for libraries.
But nearly a month before the committee was due to hand in its signatures, the oversight board began discussing adding another sales tax measure to the November ballot. At the June 8 council meeting, 2nd District Supervisor Maureen Mulheren proposed a general sales tax to fund fire prevention and water conservation.
After hearings at two separate meetings on the controversial sales tax, originally proposed as a three-eighths cent tax, BOS agreed to move forward with a reserved-only quarter-cent sales tax. to fire prevention.
Opponents have argued that a second tax on the November ballot could cause both measures to fail and ultimately a loss of funding for libraries.
“Consumers are experiencing the highest inflation they have seen in four decades and their economic future is uncertain,” 4th District Supervisor Dan Gjerde said at the June 8 BOS meeting. “Now is not the time to impose multiple taxes on a ballot.”
Hess, who has worked in libraries for 28 years and helped collect signatures for the library sales tax bill, isn’t worried about the bill passing in November. He saw the support libraries have received in the past and spoke with people who were willing to campaign on what he said was one of the only nonpartisan issues in the county.
The citizens’ committee supporting the library initiative is also confident in the county’s commitment to its libraries, but was caught off guard by the BOS proposal.
“I’m not worried about our measure, but I think the oversight board is rushing too quickly on this because I don’t think they did their due diligence,” Schaeffer said. “And they’ve known since 2019 that we were going to do it then, and they never said at any time, ‘You know, you should quit. So it puzzles us as library supporters why they would put a competing measure on the ballot, but we’re fully prepared to deal with it eventually.
The BOS will decide whether to put the fire sales tax on the ballot at its July 12 meeting. In the meantime, libraries will continue to campaign for their sales tax measure.
“We are the community hub,” said Mellisa Hannum, branch librarian of the Coast Community Library, Point Arena. “Everyone depends on us.”