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Oakland, Calif., Wants to Extend Parcel Tax 30 More Years

The tax was imposed in 1994 to raise revenue for the Bay Area city’s library services. If the measure doesn’t pass in the June primary, the library system will have to cut 40 percent of its expenditures.

(TNS) — The city of Oakland, Calif., is asking voters to extend an annual parcel tax 30 more years to keep public libraries operating at current levels, add to their collections, run youth programs and upgrade their technology.

If Measure C doesn’t pass in the June 7 primary election, the library system will have to cut about 40 percent of its expenditures, according to a memo from the city’s library director to the City Council earlier this year. That could result in a reduction of library staff and operating hours.

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

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

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

If approved, Measure C would retain those rates but allow the City Council to raise them up to 5 percent a year depending on inflation.

Low-income seniors won’t have to pay the tax, and churches, schools, hospitals and agricultural land owners can apply for exemptions.

The city can only collect the tax if it allocates at least $14.5 million to the libraries from its general fund, unless there is a “severe” and unexpected decline in revenue, according to an analysis of the measure from the Oakland City Attorney’s Office.

Because the tax is earmarked for specific purposes, it has to collect at least two-thirds of the votes to pass.

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

Three quarters of the voters surveyed said they approved the performance of the library system, up from the 63 percent who felt likewise in 2017. But the survey also revealed that voters’ trust in the city to “properly manage tax dollars” dropped by several percentage points since 2017.

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

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