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Stanislaus County Library Tax Fate Hangs In Balance

POSTED February 7, 2012 11:21 p.m.

Oakdale voters will have the opportunity this June to decide the fate of their public library. The Oakdale branch of the Stanislaus County Library is funded in part by a one-eighth cent sales tax collected throughout Stanislaus County. The tax accounts for 84 percent of the Stanislaus County Library funding, and it is set to expire in 2013. The sales tax will be on the ballot in the June 5, 2012 Primary Election.
The county’s dedicated library sales tax was the first such tax in the state, intended to fund a dwindling library system with a consistent source of revenue rather than rely on the oftentimes unreliable state budget.
“The tax has been a reliable and consistent source of revenue, which is controlled by our taxpayers,” said County Librarian Vanessa Czopek.
The ballot initiative would extend the library tax for five years, through 2018.
Two-thirds of voters must approve the measure for the sales tax to continue. Previously, two-thirds of voters first approved the sales tax for a four year term in 1995, then renewed it for another five years in 1999, then approved an eight year extension in 2004.
Without the tax, county staff said, the library would be forced to drastically reduce its mission.
The tax amounts to about $1.66 per month, per household, or about $20 per year. But the small tax adds up to represent more than 80 percent of county library revenues, raising $107.1 million since its passage.
The Oakdale library relies on the tax to pay for staff, operating expenses, materials and computer systems. The Oakdale branch library has 122,006 items in circulation. It offers story times twice a week, regular family programming, and a help desk for research questions. In addition, the library’s public computer system and resource librarians are available to help job-seekers fill out online applications, update resumes and access materials they might not have at home. There were 14,948 computer sessions at the Oakdale library in fiscal year 2010-2011.
The Stanislaus County library also offers programs to help residents prepare their taxes. The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program is available at no cost at the Oakdale Library on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. during tax season. VITA is an IRS volunteer program that offers help from knowledgeable volunteers for tax preparation.
System wide, the Stanislaus County Library offers 29 story times a week. They also offer a teen reading program, school visits and children’s activity times. On Feb. 14 the Oakdale Library will offer a craft time for kids to create a Hershey’s Kiss rose for Valentine’s Day. They also have an upcoming movie time and a teen Wii tournament. In June, kids will have the chance to read to a certified therapy dog. The Read to a Dog program helps children with reading or speech difficulties by allowing them to read out loud to someone who won’t judge them. All of these programs are supported in large part by the sales tax.
What’s more important, library staff said, is supporting literacy programs in Stanislaus County. An estimated one-fourth of Stanislaus County residents are illiterate. The library addresses that population with an adult literacy program. So far 1,500 adult students have received help with reading skills at Stanislaus County libraries.
Czopek addressed the Oakdale City Council at a December meeting and urged them to support renewal of the one-eighth cent sales tax.
“Your libraries need your support,” Czopek said.`

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