Kern County supervisors didn’t vote to put a tax to support county libraries on the June primary election ballot Tuesday.
But they may vote that way next Tuesday.
Three of the five supervisors said they believe voters should be able to make a decision about whether they tax themselves to fund the Kern County Library Department.
“It is an issue that has risen to such a level of interest in the community that I don’t see why we wouldn’t put it on the ballot,“ Supervisor Mike Maggard said.
He also said he doesn’t believe the county should investigate library privatization at this time.
If the voters approve the tax, Maggard said, then the question of issuing a request for information that could lead to privatization is moot.
But if voters don’t approve the tax then the issue of whether to issue an RFI can be reconsidered.
”I was going to say everything that Mr. Maggard has said,” said Supervisor Leticia Perez.
Supervisor Mick Gleason said he believes the $58,500 cost to put the issue on the June ballot is the price of letting democracy work.
But supervisors did not move forward with a vote on the issue.
Supervisors commissioned a poll to find out whether high-propensity voters would support the library tax and that poll is not finished.
Supervisor Zack Scrivner said he wanted to find out the final information from the poll before he votes on the issue.
County Administrative Officer John Nilon said preliminary poll results shows around 60 percent support for a library tax — near the two-thirds level needed to pass the tax.
But Perez’s motion to put the tax on the ballot Tuesday failed for a lack of as second and Maggard said he was willing to wait another week so Scrivner could get a look at the formal poll results.
“We have been bantering around the issue for a long time,“ Perez said.
Resolution of the issue might take longer than a week, however. Maggard warned that, since Gleason is going to be absent from the board meeting next week, supervisors in support of placing the measure on the ballot measure might be blocked.
“It would be a shame next week if it were 2-2 and this would not move forward,” he said.
But Kern County Counsel Theresa Goldner said Gleason could attend the meeting remotely next Tuesday from Sacramento, where he will be speaking in support of locating a high speed rail heavy maintenance facility in Kern County.
She said she would work with him to make sure his participation meets the requirements of California’s open meeting law.
Speakers at Tuesday’s meeting were, like supervisors, mostly in support of the tax. And they opposed any action that might lead to a request for proposal that could start the process of privatizing management of the Kern County Library Department.
All but two speakers at Tuesday’s meeting urged supervisors to put the tax measure on the ballot and avoid a formal “request for information” process that could lead to privatization.
“I encourage the board of supervisors to put this measure on the ballot and let the people of Kern County decide,“ said Roy Paris, past president of the Friends of the Ridgecrest Library.
Ginger Lane, a member of Friends of the Southwest Library, said volunteers passionately embrace the libraries and donate hours of their time to keep Kern County Libraries operating.
But that passion is for a private library, not one run by a for-profit company.
”We would never be there if it were run by a for-profit entity like LSSI,” she said.
Rachel Glauser of LSSI-backed Kern Citizens for Better Libraries urged the board to issue a request for information that could lead to privatizing library management.
“Everyone ought to be supportive of an RFI as it is just that — a request for information,” she said.
But library supporters opposed the RFI process, saying it would set off a process that would end in privatization.
Mandy Walters, speaking for Advocates for Library Enhancement, said library supporters would be behind LSSI “with banners” if there were a chance that the company could solve Kern County’s library problems.
But the company isn’t going to come in with wheelbarrows of cash.
“We need to fix the underlying problem and that problem is we have been chronically underfunded for a long time,” she said. “As my husband says, ’We can’t put a Band-Aid on a bullet wound.’”