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June Vote to Decide Library Tax : Budget: The stopgap measure, which would raise $1.3 million, was scaled down from last week's unpopular $7-million proposal.


PASADENA — So Pasadena voters won't accept $7 million in new taxes. How about $1.3 million?

The City Council, which last week dropped a multimillion-dollar tax proposal like a hot potato, has come up with a more modest proposal to save the city's library system. Instead of having the entire library budget financed by a special tax, which the local business community protested en masse, only part of it will be--if the plan gets voter approval.

The council Tuesday unanimously approved the new measure, which will be on a special election ballot June 22. To pass, it requires a two-thirds majority.

Winning council approval was a hard sell for City Manager Philip Hawkey, who had to prove that the city is in dire financial straits.

"We're not just in some temporary dip in our financial situation," Hawkey said. "We're on a long-term slide."

In other words, there is no other way to restore all the library services that have been lost in three years of cutbacks, he said.

The special election will cost the city about $100,000, Councilman William Paparian said. Why not use that money for library books, while giving the library system $7 million from the city's general fund?

Because, Hawkey responded, virtually every city department faces deep budget cuts and possible layoffs this year. "There is only a limited range of options," he said.

The condition of the city's library system has been a source of dismay to many of its 75,000 cardholders since last summer, when the Central Library was closed on Mondays and weekday mornings and eight branch libraries had their days of service reduced from five to four.

Aside from the closed doors, the library's budget for new books and periodicals has been reduced by more than two-thirds in the last three years, and community service and educational programs have been largely eliminated. Library patrons have complained that, so stingy is the budget, waiting lists for popular books often run to 70 or more names.

In November, the council appointed a 10-member task force to come up with a plan to bring the library back to its 1989 level of service, with the Central Library open every day and branches open five days a week.

But the task force's proposal for a special library tax--imposing $96 in new taxes on each house, $60 on each apartment and 10 cents on each square foot of commercial property--was loudly opposed last week by the Chamber of Commerce and the Pasadena Board of Realtors, as well as some small business owners and homeowners.

So council members and city staff went back to the drawing board. Instead of asking for a tax to cover the entire library budget, Councilman Chris Holden suggested, why not ask for just enough to close the gap between the current funding level and a level that would restore most lost services?

Originally, council members thought $800,000 would suffice. But a closer look at the gap between current funding and the needs of the library raised the figure to the $1.3 million voters will be asked to approve.

To raise about $1.3 million a year over the next five years, each house will have to be taxed an annual $20, each apartment $13 and each non-residential parcel (with churches exempt) a flat $147, Hawkey said. Under terms of the tax measure, the council also will be obligated to ensure that at least $5.8 million--the library's current level of funding--goes to the library system from the general fund budget.

In the meantime, other city departments face cuts that will reduce the staff by 31 full-time positions and possibly force the layoffs of 21 others, Hawkey said.

The city faces a potential shortfall of more than $12 million in the next fiscal year, which begins in July, Hawkey said. He outlined a series of budget cuts to close that gap by about $4.5 million. These include $365,000 cuts in the police budget, $738,000 in health services, $455,000 in public works and $198,000 in human services.

"But the one thing you won't see are library cuts," Hawkey said.

That was good enough for Chamber of Commerce board member James Plotkin, who initially expressed the business community's reservations about the new tax measure.

"I support it without question," he said after Tuesday's meeting.

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