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For more election coverage, visit pressdemocrat.com/election2016.

For PD endorsements, visit pressdemocrat.com/endorsements2016.


Sample ballots for the Nov. 8 election should begin arriving this week. But be forewarned. You’re going to need a bigger mailbox.

The voter pamphlet for my neighborhood in Santa Rosa — I looked it up on the web — is 51 pages. The state Voter Information Guide is another 224 pages. Combined, that’s longer than each of the first two Harry Potter books. The ballot itself will have nine sides, increasing the risk that voters may skip over an entire side by mistake. Either way, precinct workers may need to have chairs available at the voting booths this year. And maybe a little coffee.

Those of us on The Press Democrat Editorial Board have been interviewing candidates and supporters and opponents of ballot measures and have been rolling out our endorsements for more than a month. (They’re all available on pressdemocrat.com.) We expect to post our first recommendations list about the time the mail-in ballots arrive around Oct. 10.

Some of the issues to be decided should never have been put on the ballot in the first place. (Think porn films and condoms, or, better yet, don’t.) But the vast majority involve important choices. Two in particular should stand out. The first comes at the beginning — the presidential race. The other comes at the end, Measure Y, which has the biggest risk of being forgotten or lost amid the forthcoming voter fatigue.

Measure Y is a one-eighth cent sales tax to support Sonoma County libraries for 10 years. When a similar measure was put on the ballot two years ago, 37,000 more county residents supported it than opposed it. But because a tax measure needs a two-thirds vote to pass, it lost by just a few percentage points.

They say you can’t tell a book by its cover. But you can with this one. The cover on this one is old and tattered and needs help. Here are five reasons why voters should support Measure Y:

1. Funding for Sonoma County libraries is woefully inadequate. Contrary to popular belief, libraries are not funded by the county so don’t try blaming this shortfall on the Board of Supervisors. They are part of an independent joint powers authority funded solely through a property tax of 22.5 cents per $1,000 in assessed value, a relatively low rate. That leaves the county with revenue of about $33 for every resident in the county. This compares to $85 per capita in Napa County, $106 in Marin County and $130 in San Francisco. If Measure Y is approved, it would raise the county’s level to $56 per capita. “We would still be lagging behind our peers, but the gap wouldn’t be as significant,” said Sonoma County Library Director Brett Lear.

2. Library services themselves are woefully inadequate. Services and hours had to be drastically cut during the recession, and they have not been restored. All libraries remain closed on Mondays, and all but the downtown Santa Rosa branch are closed on Sundays. Overall, hours at the 17 branches — including the specialty ones like the History and Genealogy Library downtown — remain down by 25 percent while book-buying has been cut short. Waiting lists for some books are as long as six months. In addition, the system has roughly $8 million in deferred maintenance costs and $1.5 million in deferred technology needs.

For more election coverage, visit pressdemocrat.com/election2016.

For PD endorsements, visit pressdemocrat.com/endorsements2016.

3. A little goes a long way. This is not a lot of money. It amounts to 12.5 cents on a $100 purchase. But combined, it would infuse the libraries with $10 million to $12 million in additional funds each year, allowing the system to reopen on Mondays and expand hours in other areas, buy more books, expand educational programs for users of all ages and create computer labs where none exist today. It also would allow expansion of the new library branch in Roseland, which is the product of a community grassroots effort — a true feel-good local story. The library currently shares a temporary space with the Boys and Girls Club and the Community Development Commission.

4. This is not a pension issue. Despite the contentions of the ballot arguments against Measure Y, you can’t lump this problem in with the rest of the county. As noted above, the library system is operated under a separate authority, and its employees are not covered by the county pension system. And unlike the county and many other public agencies across the state, the library system did not bolster retirement benefits to indefensible and unsustainable levels. Library employees earn 2 percent of their salary for each year of employment. Longtime employees are eligible to retire at age 55, while more recent hires must wait until 62. While the library system still has unfunded liabilities, if the rest of the county had a similar formula, the county would not be in such a fix.

5. Finally, libraries remain one of the last free community gathering spots we have left in a culture that seems to be more tied to connecting through social media or Starbucks. One doesn’t need to buy coffee or a meal to go to the library. You don’t need to buy a membership or subject yourself to being surrounded by merchants such as at a mall.

“Libraries help create a sense of community and social connections, especially for young families,” said Adriana Arrizon of Santa Rosa, the mother of two boys. Arrizon, a Sonoma County Public Library Foundation board member, says she particularly sees the importance of libraries in her work as a health information specialist for First 5 Sonoma County. She encourages parents with young children to take advantage of the programs that libraries provide — and others that they hope to offer — that promote literacy and family bonding. “Sometimes just having that access to a book and parents can find a way to connect with others to talk — and talk to their children,” she said.

Yes, voters can wait to help libraries until all the potholes are repaired and all the pension problems are resolved. But in the meantime, another generation of children will have grown up and moved on without the full benefit of the educational and social opportunities that a robust library system can provide. In the long run, that’s a high cost to pay. For 0.125 cents on the dollar, we can do better.

Paul Gullixson is editorial director for The Press Democrat. Email him at paul.gullixson@pressdemocrat.com.