Oakland voters to weigh package tax extension for libraries

The City of Oakland is asking voters to extend the annual package tax for 30 years to keep public libraries operating at current levels, expanding their collections, running youth programs and upgrading their technology.

If Measure C does not pass in the June 7 primary election, the library system will have to cut spending by about 40%, according to a memo from the city’s library manager to city council earlier this year. This could lead to a reduction in library staff and opening hours.

The city’s library system includes a main library, 16 branches, the Oakland History Center, the Tool Lending Library, and the Oakland African American Museum and Library.

In 1994, Oakland voters approved the Library Services Retention and Enhancement Act, which imposed a tax on packages to increase revenue from library services. Voters extended the tax in 2004 to keep branches open a certain number of days, provide more programs, operate the African American Museum and retain children’s librarians.

Owners of single-family plots currently pay $114.50 per year and those of multiple housing plots pay $78.22 per unit. Owners of non-residential parcels pay $58.65 per residential unit equivalent, based on square footage.

If approved, Measure C would retain these rates but allow the city council to increase them by up to 5% per year based on inflation.

Low-income seniors won’t have to pay taxes, and churches, schools, hospitals and farmland owners can claim exemptions.

City can only collect tax if it allocates at least $14.5 million to libraries from its general fund, unless there is a ‘severe’ and unexpected drop in revenue, analysis says of the Oakland City Attorney’s Office action.

Since the tax is intended for specific purposes, it must receive at least two-thirds of the vote to pass.

A survey conducted last fall by EMC Research for Friends of the Oakland Library indicated that voters were generally happy with libraries, saw a need for increased funding, and supported extending the package tax to the current rate. .

Three-quarters of voters surveyed said they approved of the library system’s performance, up from 63% who held the same view in 2017. But the survey also found that voters’ confidence in the city to “properly manage the ‘taxpayers’ money’ has dropped by several percentages. points since 2017.

City officials estimate the tax will raise about $18 million in the first year if approved.

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