Atherton's City Council has approved a set of "talking points" members said will be a starting point in negotiations with the county library system over the future use of library tax funds generated within the town.
Council members adopted the talking points at their April 15 meeting. "It's not take it or leave it; it's a discussion," Mayor Rick DeGolia said of how the talking points will be used.
Atherton is part of a Joint Powers Authority (JPA) that manages the county library system, along with Belmont, Brisbane, East Palo Alto, Foster City, Half Moon Bay, Millbrae, Pacifica, Portola Valley, San Carlos and Woodside as well as San Mateo County.
Changes in the joint powers agreement are being considered by the county library system's governing board. The changes could mean that some property tax funds that now go to Atherton, Woodside and Portola Valley for library use in those towns will be shared with the rest of the county libraries.
Currently, all library tax funds generated in a city or town stay in that community, even if the town doesn't need them for current library expenses. Only three towns Woodside, Portola Valley and Atherton generate more tax funds than are needed to run their libraries. State law says the funds cannot be used for anything but libraries.
The first of the talking points adopted by the council says that if the library tax fund issue "cannot be resolved in a reasonable way, the town will be forced to consider withdrawing from the library JPA to protect its fiduciary responsibility to local taxpayers."
Among the 10 talking points is one that council member Elizabeth Lewis said is "really critical," getting written assurance that the library tax money the town has already accumulated can be used to build a new library.
Atherton is asking for other changes in the current joint powers agreement to make it easier for Atherton to leave the system without a financial penalty. It also wants the town to be allowed to spend all the library tax money it generates on its own library before it shares any with the rest of the system.
While the adopted talking points, which will be used by Mayor Rick DeGolia as the town's representative in the JPA, threaten leaving the library system, Mr. DeGolia says there are many reasons the town does not want to do that.
The county library system is recognized within the library community as "one of the best library systems in the United States," he said. "They have extremely well-trained librarians and other library staff." Mr. DeGolia said county library employees are helping Atherton design the new library that will be part of the town's new civic center.
The history and relationships with county library system's employees "is significant and very strong. We definitely benefit from their expertise," he said.
"While Atherton can afford to go it alone, I don't think that creates the environment for the richest exchange of ideas," he said. "I believe that if we were to leave the JPA, we would lose some of the rich interaction and exchange of very innovative ideas" that take place in the county system, he said.
Mr. DeGolia said he will use the talking points document to meet with county library staff. The document will also be part of a report from county library staff to the overall governing board, he said. Mr. DeGolia said he will set up the meeting now that he has direction from the council.
"They want us in the JPA. We want to be in the JPA, but it has to be palatable," he said. "It's a delicate negotiation that I think is going fine."