Oakland is preparing June ballot measure to replace diminished library parcel tax

Oakland voters overwhelmingly supported
Measure Q in 2004, but the parcel tax has
struggled to improve libraries in the city.

Oakland’s libraries have faced years of disheartening budget cuts, but a plan to place a library parcel tax at the ballot box next June is sowing doubts that it will do much to help increase funding and services.

Polling presented to the Oakland City Council Finance Committee Tuesday showed 73 percent of likely November voters support a $75 annual parcel tax. Two-thirds support of the  vote is needed for passage.

The proposed parcel tax (specific language is scheduled to come before a council committee in two weeks) would replace the controversial Measure Q library parcel tax, approved in 2004 with more than 77 percent support.

Measure Q, though, evokes some trepidation for library supporters, who voiced skepticism over whether the proposed parcel tax will provide much relief over the current version.

“Our hearts and souls are in this campaign to make this tax measure happen, but we want to make sure that when you put this together with us that [funding] does not get shifted. That it does, in fact, enhance services and provide the kind of services for the library that Oakland should have,” said Victoria Barbero, chair of the Oakland Library Advisory Commission.

After the Great Recession hit Oakland’s budget hard, city leaders moved to tightened purse-strings and  decided to lower its portion of funding for libraries to the minimum amount required under Measure Q–$9.05 million a year. As a result, the city’s funding dipped from roughly half of the library’s total budget to between 34-41 percent every fiscal year since 2009. Measure Q is due to sunset in 2024.

The reduction of city general fund revenues diminished the promised 6-day library schedule to five weekday, limited its literacy program and scuttled the book mobile, said Barbero.

The proposed parcel tax, though, does not include a similar minimum funding mechanism from the city, which is problematic for some Oakland councilmembers. “It’s possible that down the line this will not result in what we’re promising will be the result,” said Councilmember Dan Kalb.

Councilmember Anne Campbell Washington was more direct, instructing the city staff to include in the proposed parcel tax a minimum maintenance of effort from city, regardless of whether the city administrator’s office agrees with the inclusion.

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