PD Editorial: Yes on Y: An investment in local libraries

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

For PD endorsements, visit pressdemocrat.com/endorsements2016.

How much is an eighth of a cent? Counted as a sales tax, it’s a nickel on a $40 purchase, a dollar on an $800 expenditure. It is, in other words, spare change.

For patrons of the Sonoma County Public Library, however, those nickels and dollars promise longer hours, larger collections and faster access to popular titles.

Sonoma County’s library lacks the financial resources of public libraries in most other Bay Area counties, surviving on a tiny fraction of property tax revenue. Because of its unusual governing structure, the 14-branch library system doesn’t receive any operating funds from the county or the communities it serves.

A library is a vital community asset, even in the internet age. Indeed, it’s been said that libraries will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no libraries.

Sonoma County’s library knows about getting through times with no money, having slashed hours, cut staff and scaled back acquisitions during the Great Recession.

The budget has finally climbed back to pre-recession levels, about $17 million a year, but inflation is eroding its buying power. Even so, the library has managed to add a few new services, including e-books, research databases and streaming movies, available for free for its 240,000 cardholders. The library also opened a new branch serving Roseland.

However, careful budgeting and a dedicated team of volunteers only go so far. The library still hasn’t been able to restore Monday or evening hours, make needed investments in books and technology or add basic services such as computer labs and adult literacy classes that are common in public libraries elsewhere.

That’s why Sonoma County’s library needs Measure Y.

Measure Y is a 0.0125 percent sales tax — one-eighth of a cent — on the Nov. 8 ballot. The added nickels and dimes on taxable sales would raise about $10 million a year to be spent only on the public library system. Because the tax revenue would be earmarked for a specific service, Measure Y requires a two-thirds majority for approval.

Two years ago, an identical measure received more than 88,500 votes — a 63.3 percent majority. That’s a landslide in almost any election, but it was 3.3 percent short of the two-thirds threshold needed for a special tax. It was a disappointment for library supporters, and we encouraged the library commission to try again. This time, we hope it passes.

Thousands of Sonoma County homes, especially in rural areas, have no access to high-speed internet service. For those residents, especially students, the library offers a lifeline. And for anyone frustrated with a million possible (and possibly dubious) answers to an internet query, research librarians are ready to help find an accurate and fully sourced answer.

Sonoma County residents have been remarkably generous to local education institutions, routinely approving school bond measures that have added hundreds of dollars to their annual property tax bills. The library gets just 22.5 cents of every $1,000 of property taxes, a figure locked in place by Proposition 13.

Measure Y would be the first funding increase for libraries in more than 40 years, providing millions of dollars for new services at a cost of pennies a day. What could be a better investment? The Press Democrat recommends a yes vote.

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

For PD endorsements, visit pressdemocrat.com/endorsements2016.

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