Monday, March 9, 2009
Long Beach Library Parcel Tax: Good Idea? Bad Idea?
Fifth District Councilwoman Gerrie Schipske has created the Save Our Long Beach Libraries Task Force as a reaction to budget cuts facing the City of Long Beach which will most likely have a very negative impact on the budget for the City's libraries. Schipske is proposing a parcel tax, currently being floated is approximately $35 per year per single family residence, that would be dedicated to the Long Beach Public Library.
This appears to be a good idea, a way to guarantee funding for libraries, and perhaps even increase the budget for the library system in Long Beach. Three dollars a month does not seem like a lot of money to most property owners. The cause, funding to restore, maintain and grow the library system's infrastructure and services would impact literacy and guarantee future generations would have a stable library in their community. Who is against increasing literacy, or the opportunity to become literate, in their community?
The difficulty with this tax at this time is the distrust between voters and those for whom they cast their votes. We have seen our Federal budget explode to over $3 trillion in the last month. We have seen a decade or more of fiscal irresponsibility in Sacramento where spending has out paced population by 400% and thousands of dollars of new taxes have been added to California families each year. Locally, Long Beach residents have seen the loss of $20 million imprudently invested weeks before Lehman Brothers crashed, budget deficit projections of $20 million or more in the coming years, and a belief that City Hall does not spend the tax payers' money prudently. Millions on a pier to no where for the Aquataxi, millions year in and year out for consultants to do the work for departments that are already staffed, millions in salaries for personnel that are redundant throughout the city, i.e. "spokesperson" or "community advisor" or "communications director" in every department--many of whom do not, speak, advise or communicate that is. Why should we give another $3-5 million every year to an entity that we feel has not been wisely spending our money? Further, if the parcel tax is passed will this free up the current library budget for other departments?
So how to balance the good idea and the bad idea? To increase the chances of the parcel tax passing I feel to ballot proposition needs to clearly state who will be overseeing the funds to ensure they are used only for the Long Beach library system for buidlings, books and technology. Clearly define the purpose of the funds and also state who will oversee the allocation and accounting of the funds received and spent. Oh, and this body of oversight should be removed from City Hall.
Currently there are two organizations operating as non-profits that state as their missions they support the Long Beach Public Library, the Friends of the Long Beach Public Library (Friends) and the Long Beach Public Library Foundation (Foundation). In looking at their websites it appears the Friends are affiliated directly with the library, with an "Executive Board." The names of the Executive Board and how they are selected are not listed on the site. The Foundation appears to be much more independent of the library system and while offering support and programs has a listed board of directors, none of whom currently work for the City of Long Beach. In searching through both websites neither indicates how individuals are selected to sit on their Executive Board or Board of Directors.
I bring up the selection of leadership because it may be that either of these entities, or a hybrid of their community leadership, may be the answer to an independent body to oversee the distribution of funds for library projects should one be provided for in a ballot initiative. Citizens of Long Beach would be much more likely to vote for a library parcel tax if they had assurances current or future city officials would not be able to raid the funds, or strip library funds from the General Fund, for other projects or to back fill budget shortfalls.
A parcel tax for Long Beach Public Libraries? A good idea if proper oversight, away from City Hall, is applied to the process, a bad idea of the revenue raised from the tax is loosely guarded and vulnerable to future appropriations for non-library purposes.