A group hoping to get a library tax on the June ballot initially needed 13,269 voter signatures.
Now they need five.
That’s because a disagreement with the Kern County elections office over how to gather signatures has delayed the work of Advocates for Library Enhancement.
So instead it will ask the five members of the Kern County Board of Supervisors to put the eighth-of-a-cent sales tax measure before voters.
“Supervisors can put it on the ballot without a signature campaign,” said Miranda Lomeli-O'Reilly, a co-founder of ALE. “No matter what, the community deserves the right to vote on libraries.”
Supervisor Mick Gleason said the board will hear the request Feb. 2.
”We’re going to have a discussion,“ he said. ”It’s not going to be a decision meeting. It’s going to be an information meeting.“
Then supervisors will have to decide, after that, if they will put the tax measure on the ballot. That could be a tough sell in conservative Kern.
Kern County Elections Chief Karen Rhea said the group’s signature forms are ready to go and have been since early December.
“I’ve been waiting for them to publish (in a general circulation newspaper) and begin circulating,” she said.
But Lomeli-O'Reilly said the group struggled with the rules for formatting the paperwork and getting both the basic details of the measure and spaces for signatures on the same page.
Elections gave it a format that would work, she said, but it would have required printing on double-legal paper and ALE questioned whether the law truly required it to do all that.
“We’ve had the best interactions with them,” Lomeli-O'Reilly said. “They’ve been wonderful and very, very patient with us.”
But ultimately a lawyer hired by ALE disputed the Elections Office’s interpretation of the rules, she said. The matter still hasn’t been resolved and, she said, the group has lost too much time to make a May deadline to gather signatures.
So ALE will take its case to the supervisors. If supervisors don’t support the request, Lomeli-O'Reilly said, the Advocates group will gather signatures for the November ballot.
It’s estimated the tax would raise $15 million during the several years’ life of the measure. The county Library Department’s current budget totals about $7 million.