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Angelenos May Vote to Increase Library Funding in March Election

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At library funding protest in May, 2010 (more photos here) | Photo by Zach Behrens/LAist

When library hours were shortened by two days this summer, thanks to budget cuts, there was a movement to save them via the ballot. The prospect of that is nearing reality. Today the L.A. City Council voted to have language drawn up to put such a measure before voters on March 8th, 2011.

If approved -- both by the City Council to place it on the ballot and then by the voters at the polls -- libraries would be guaranteed a bigger chunk of money annually. They are mostly funded via a formula based on assessed value of all property within Los Angeles city limits. In other words, while property taxes do not directly contribute to libraries, they are the basis for how much the city must fund libraries at a minimum. The formula is dictated by the City Charter, which can only be changed by a vote of the people.

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“Unfortunately, the funding protections in place in the City Charter for Libraries are not as robust as those for Recreation and Parks, which allowed for disproportionate, draconian cuts to our library system in the 2010 / 2011 Budget,” Councilmember Bernard Parks, who co-authored the motion, said.

Here's where it gets wonky. Currently, the rate is set a .0175 percent, which guaranteed libraries $75 million last year (the library actually needs around $130 million a year for its operating budget and related costs, so additional funds are appropriated at the discretion of the City Council and Mayor and by the library's own revenue generation, such as through fines). The ballot measure would give libraries an estimated -- property values do fluctuate, after all -- additional $53 million per year by raising the percentage rate to .03%, nearly matching the city's funding of Recreation and Parks, which has a .0325% rate.

Even though L.A.'s system of 73 libraries makes up about 2% of the city's budget, citywide budget cuts hurt libraries so much, they went from operating seven days a week to five (Added: in short, when the city began to run out of money over the past few years, it began to require reimbursement for utility and security costs, meaning the library had to dip into its operation budget, which pays for books and staff, to pay those bills).

“I believe this is both unacceptable and unfair, especially for low-income communities, whose residents often don’t have the luxury of a home computer with a high-speed internet connection," Parks continued. "Libraries not only democratize access to information, they provide a safe, quiet location for children to study and work on homework, as well as a meeting place for many civic and community organizations.”

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