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Glendale City Council rejects parcel tax for libraries

Members' 3-2 vote against paying for survey means the issue won't go to voters.

November 20, 2011|By Brittany Levine brittany.levine@latimes.com

The Glendale City Council shot down a potential tax that could generate nearly $1 million for the city’s library system after questions arose whether it was too burdensome for residents still grappling with the ongoing recession.

The issue divided leaders at Tuesday’s meeting, some saying they opposed the tax because of the extra burden it would place on residents already struggling from a tough economy, while others described it as a necessary means to boost an underfunded system.

“Increasing fees and taxes — I just think it’s the wrong approach,” said Councilman Rafi Manoukian, who along with Councilmen Frank Quintero and Ara Najarian voted against a telephone survey to gauge public interest in a parcel tax to pay for library services, which have been hit by rounds of citywide budget cuts.

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A parcel tax would require two-thirds approval from the public, but before spending thousands of dollars to put it on a ballot, Libraries Director Cindy Cleary had asked the City Council to approve the survey. Since the survey is a no-go, so is the tax.

“In order to go forward, we needed to go through with the survey,” Cleary said, adding that she would not feel comfortable putting out a ballot measure that didn’t have strong public support.

The cost of the parcel tax would have depended on survey results, she said.

In Pasadena — which last fiscal year spent roughly twice per capita on libraries than in Glendale — the parcel tax is $33.77 to $246.93, depending on the property, according to a city report.

Councilman Dave Weaver, who with Mayor Laura Friedman had supported the survey, said without the tax, library services could be vulnerable to more budget cuts in the future.

The Chevy Chase and Casa Verdugo branch libraries were on the chopping block last summer, but strong public support swayed leaders to continue funding them.

Over the past four years, the library system’s operating budget has been cut by about $970,000. Cleary said a parcel tax could cover those losses, bolstering budgets for books, technical resources and services, such as job training and English-as-a-second-language programs.

The library system’s share of state money has also decreased over the years, dropping from a 10-year high of $400,000 to last year’s $140,000. It could slide to zero next year if the state doesn’t bring in enough revenue.

The library has about $1 million from a bequest, but Cleary said she’d prefer to keep that money as reserves. Library officials had planned to use between $18,000 and $25,000 in interest made off the bequest to conduct the survey.

It would be “penny foolish to spend it all,” Cleary said.

She said the library system will have to figure out other options, such as applying for grants, now that a tax is out of the picture.

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