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SOUTHEAST AREA : Many Cities Reject Special Library Tax

August 28, 1994|SIMON ROMERO

Prospects appear dim for restored county library service in several Southeast cities, where city councils have shied away from a household assessment tax to help finance the troubled institutions.

The Maywood and Cudahy councils have given their approval but Bell's opposed the plan. Huntington Park's council postponed its vote until Monday, and South Gate's postponed a decision until Sept. 6.

Last month, the County Board of Supervisors voted 3 to 1,to set up a Community Facilities District to fund extended services in the county's beleaguered libraries. Only property owners in unincorporated parts of the county and cities that agree to the assessment--estimated at about $28.50 per year for a single-family home--would be taxed, according to county officials. And only those areas that agree to the tax will receive funding for their libraries.

Countywide, of the 52 cities served by the library system, only 13 cities have decided to join the district; 22 opted out. Seven more decided to take no action. Still wrestling with the idea were 10 cities.

The 28 unincorporated communities that have county library branches will automatically become part of the district. Supervisors will hold a public hearing Tuesday on the matter.

More than 200 people attended a recent South Gate council meeting to discuss the tax. About 25 residents spoke on the issue, most of them in opposition.

"Once the item unraveled, people found out it was not in the council's hands," said South Gate City Clerk Nina Banuelos, who is also president of the Friends of the South Gate Library. "I was shocked, because I supported this resolution," Banuelos said. "But it became clear that the county was giving us so little control over our own library. The supervisors would have to authorize the City Council to exit from such a tax."

Banuelos suggested that in place of the tax, Southeast cities could form a consortium to operate area libraries: "We need to find out if we can run our own libraries by drawing upon one another's resources."

At Huntington Park's council meeting, council members heard pleas from residents who want their library to stay open longer.

"The library has always been my friend," said Alderina Meldran, a Huntington Park resident since 1947. "Elderly people like me use it all the time."

The Huntington Park library is open 28 hours, four days per week, down from seven days in 1992.

Margaret Wong, assistant director of the county libraries, said the Huntington Park library's budget was $985,000 last year, down from $1.5 million the year before. Wong assured the council that if the city decides to participate in the tax district, the library's hours and services would not be further reduced.

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