The organization Friends of the Oakley Library approached the City Council last October asking the city to support its effort to move the library, currently located at Freedom High School, to the former CentroMart building on Main Street. The Oakley Library occupies a 3,000-square-foot space, too small to house an adequate collection of books and resources to serve a community of more than 30,000. The CentroMart building spans 15,000 square feet, offering plenty of room for an expanded collection of books, more computers and meeting rooms for activities and community events.
City staff worked with the Friends and recommended last Tuesday that the council support a special election in May that would ask voters to support an annual $52 tax to support the library’s relocation. The tax would be implemented for a 30-year period.
The mail-in-ballot special election would cost the city an estimated $92,000. The parcel tax requires a two-thirds favorable vote for the tax to pass. To make the deadline for the May 7 election, the council would need to make a decision by Feb. 8, but the council showed hesitation regarding the weighty expenses to host an election and no guarantee that the parcel tax would garner enough support.
“I’ve done my homework,” said councilmember Diane Burgis. “Last year, six out of six library parcel taxes failed. … You’ve (The Friends of Oakley Library) asked the city to invest in an idea (for a downtown library). I want to see a plan on how they’re going to do it. I need to feel confident that there are people who will try with all their might to make it happen.”
Councilmember Randy Pope expressed similar qualms. While he knew he was outnumbered by a crowd of more than 70 who came out to support the parcel tax, his thoughts were focused on the big picture. Pope anticipated a more structured proposal from the Friends, including diagrams and mock-ups of what the new library would look like and a list of improvements and amenities.
“This isn’t what I had expected when I voted to move this forward (in October),” Pope said. “I want to work with Friends of the Oakley Library, have a plan, have an idea – this is what we’re going to build, take it to the taxpayers and have a vote. I don’t see that here. It’s premature. If we want to be successful and have the wonderful library we all want to have, we need to have the parcel tax survive. We need a two-thirds vote in favor of this project. That’s 66 percent of voters and we’re living in an environment right now where parcel taxes are voted down left and right.”
The Friends of the Oakley Library conducted a survey in December to measure the community’s response to a parcel tax. Five hundred Oakley voters were randomly selected to participate in the survey, and of the 160 responses, 73 percent supported a monthly parcel tax of $3 to $5.
Those numbers didn’t convince Councilmember Doug Hardcastle. “It’s one thing to load up and show up,” said Hardcastle, referring to the standing-room-only crowd. “But there are thousands of other people you have to convince to make this election successful. Everyone supports the good stuff, but are they willing to pay for the good stuff? That (the survey results) is not overwhelming support.”
Facing looming questions about how the Friends of the Oakley Library plan to promote the parcel tax and garner enough support to make the city’s financial investment in a special election worth it, the council asked that the discussion be continued to its Feb. 12 meeting, at which time the Friends could present a strategy for public outreach.
Since the discussion has been continued, the council will miss the Feb. 8 deadline for the May 7 election. The next possible election opportunity would be for the general election on June 4.
The Friends of the Oakley Library met this week to discuss a campaign strategy to gather support for the parcel tax.