The future of Kern County library services looks grim after voters sharply rejected a one-eighth-cent sales tax to boost their budgets by $15 million a year.
Measure F received just 50.69 percent support, far shy of the 66.6 percent required for passage.
With the downturn in oil prices expected to hit the 2016-17 county budget hard, library administrators may have to cut hours and materials budgets even more than they have over the last several years if they don’t have the tax money.
Libraries, like all county departments, are being asked to take a 5 percent general fund reduction.
The estimated $15 million generated by Measure F would have brought more library hours, technology, programs, books and library space to Kern County, officials said.
Measure F supporters, who raised more than $80,000 to fund the effort to pass the measure, expressed pride Tuesday at their effort.
“There is never a moment that our volunteers or I regret the work we’ve done for the libraries,” said Miranda Lomeli-O’Reilly, co-founder of Advocates for Library Enhancement, the group that backed Measure F.
For a grassroots campaign with only three months to raise cash, build a campaign and push a measure to the voters, she said, the Measure F group has accomplished a great deal.
Supporters flooded streets with signs and mailboxes with flyers in an attempt to pass the measure.
Measure F had only scattered opposition, from people like Supervisor David Couch, groups like the Bakersfield Tea Party and an underground website that took some swings at the tax measure on social media.
But the biggest challenge, backers said, was always the general reluctance from Kern County voters to say “yes” to any tax increase — no matter the value of the cause.
The Measure F campaign couldn’t push past that inertia.
So what comes next?
That, Lomeli-O’Reily said, is up to somebody else for now.
“We don’t make decisions. Those hard decisions are going to have to be make by the library and the (Kern County) Board of Supervisors,” she said.
Supervisors had previously considered a proposal from a private library management company, Library Systems and Services, to outsource management of Kern County libraries.
Supervisors could revive that idea, deeply unpopular with Measure F supporters, now that the tax measure has failed at the ballot box.
Asked if another attempt at a library tax measure is possible, Lomeli-O’Reilly didn’t count the option out. But she said the possibility hasn’t even been discussed. The focus, she said, was on promoting Measure F.