Atherton property owners pay a library tax that generates more than $1 million a year more than is needed to operate the Atherton Library. Should this money stay in Atherton or be shared with the county library system?
The Atherton City Council plans to discuss this topic when it meets Wednesday, April 1, in the Holbrook-Palmer Park Pavilion at 150 Watkins Ave. The meeting starts at 4 p.m. Also on the agenda is the town's 2015-16 budget.
The Atherton Library is part of the San Mateo County Library system, and Atherton is part of a Joint Powers Authority (JPA) that manages the system. Other members are Belmont, Brisbane, East Palo Alto, Foster City, Half Moon Bay, Millbrae, Pacifica, Portola Valley, San Carlos and Woodside as well as unincorporated San Mateo County.
For years, library property tax dollars ($32 per $100,000 in assessed value) beyond the amount needed to pay library operating costs and a share of administration and overhead costs were given back to cities, to be used to pay library-related expenses only. Atherton is one of three so-called "donor cities" that receive these excess funds. The other two are Woodside and Portola Valley.
Atherton property owners are now paying about $1.3 million more each year in library tax than is spent on library costs, according to Mayor Rick DeGolia, who is on the library JPA's donor fund subcommittee.
At the end of June 2014, the town had accumulated $8.6 million in its fund, which will go to build a new library. Once the library is built, however, even with higher operating expenses, the town will still bring in about $1 million a year in excess tax revenues, Mr. DeGolia said.
Mr. DeGolia said county library staff have proposed changing the JPA agreement (with a two-thirds vote of members) to give only half the excess library tax revenues back to donor cities, with a cap on each donor city's fund of $1 million.
The remaining money would go into the county library's general fund, resulting in nearly $1 million in annual revenue for the county system.
Mr. DeGolia said he instead wants donor cities to be allowed to use as much of their excess funds as they need for library-related purposes, with any money remaining split between the city and the county system. He said he has suggested the county's share go into a reserve fund that other cities could apply to dip into.
Atherton currently uses some of the donor funds for library maintenance, custodial and landscaping services, library supplies, and to keep the library open 17 additional hours a week.
In the future, Mr. DeGolia said, Atherton could spend its excess funds on one of his current pet projects, such as outfitting the town with a town-wide high-speed Internet connection providing library services. The funds could also pay for more service hours and programs; remote library kiosks at schools, the park and other locations; and an enhanced bookmobile program, he said.