Atherton council questions county library plans to share funding

Proposal would allow taxes generated in Atherton to go to other county libraries

Note: An earlier version of this story said Portola Valley built its new library with accumulated excess library tax revenue. Portola Valley Mayor Maryann Derwin says the new Portola Valley Library was actually built with donated funds. At the time of its construction, the town had only recently started generating more tax dollars than it spent on the library, she said.


As real estate prices have boomed in recent years, additional property tax revenue has helped turn around Atherton's finances, but has also prompted town officials to criticize some inequities in funding of local agencies that have their roots in the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978.

At an Oct. 5 study session, Atherton City Council members discussed a proposal by the San Mateo County Libraries system to start using some property tax money generated in Atherton, Woodside and Portola Valley that is set aside for libraries to help fund libraries in less-affluent communities.

The year after California voters put strict limits on property tax rates with the passage of Proposition 13, the state Legislature allocated property tax proceeds to local agencies based on the percentage of local tax revenues the agencies had received prior to the proposition's passage.

Now, 47 years later, the allocations put in place in 1979 mean that in Atherton, during the last fiscal year, taxes set aside for libraries brought in $1.2 million more than it costs to run the library. Woodside generated $439,212 in excess library funding last year and Portola Valley, $105,269.

Currently, the excess library funds are set aside for the municipality that generated them to use for library-related expenses. Woodside remodeled its library with its accumulated funds. Atherton plans to build a new library with its library funds, currently about $11 million. (Portola Valley's new library was built with private donations because the town had not been generating excess library funds for long enough before building the library to pay for it.)

But the Joint Powers Authority (JPA) that manages the county library system which also includes Belmont, Brisbane, East Palo Alto, Foster City, Half Moon Bay, Millbrae, Pacifica, Portola Valley, San Carlos and Woodside as well as San Mateo County is now asking for changes. The proposal is that the three municipalities that generate excess library property taxes give 50 percent of their excess tax money to the JPA, so it can be spent on other libraries.

Rick DeGolia, who represents Atherton on the governing board of the library JPA, said the proposal is to split the funds remaining after the library's operating expenses and a share of the overall system's expenses are paid.

The split would come before the towns paid the expenses of maintaining and operating their library's buildings and grounds, Mr. DeGolia said, and that didn't sit well with some council members.

"Our job is to make sure the residents of Atherton" are getting the benefits from their tax dollars, said council member Mike Lempres. "It's great to subsidize libraries in other places," he said, but that is not Atherton's job.

Council members also said they want to build up a reserve fund to repair or replace the new library in the future.

"If we have to do some sort of splitting," council member Bill Widmer said, the split should occur after facility operations and maintenance are funded and some money is put into a replacement fund. Otherwise, he told Mr. DeGolia, "I think you should vote against it."

Mr. DeGolia said he had already made the argument to the JPA board exactly as Mr. Widmer suggested. "That's a position I have taken and it has not passed," he said.

Mr. DeGolia pointed out that the prediction is that Atherton will generate about $1.5 million a year in excess funds once its new library is built, and that maintaining and operating a new and larger library probably will not cost more than about $150,000 a year.

"Nobody has presented an idea of how we could use $1.5 million a year on library services," he said.

Council members also expressed frustration that while the town has resorted to a parcel tax to fund a long list of capital improvements, Atherton-generated property tax revenues allocated for other purposes seem to be going unused.

"I'm having a hard time separating this issue" from the issue of how much property tax generated from Atherton goes to the fire district and how much of that is spent in Atherton, Mr. Widmer said. "Where is our money going, and what is it being spent on, and are we getting any benefit from it?" he asked.

Mayor Elizabeth Lewis suggested the council might form a subcommittee look further into the library issue before it comes to a vote of the JPA.

Any amendments to the library JPA agreement would have to be approved by two-thirds of its 13 members," Mr. DeGolia said.

"There's some leverage that we have to get what we want, because they want us to stay in the JPA," Mr. DeGolia said.

Mr. DeGolia said that the county library system, originally an independent entity, was changed into a joint powers association in 1999. He said turning the fire district into a joint powers association, which would presumably be made up of Menlo Park, East Palo Alto, Atherton and San Mateo County, would be "one solution for the fire district."

"That's a potential avenue to look at for the fire district," he said.

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4 people like this
Posted by Apple
a resident of Atherton: other
on Oct 6, 2016 at 11:23 pm

Why not use the excess library funds to pay for the Atherton Fiber rollout, then in follow on years subsidize the ongoing service? A library's purpose is to educate and inform the community. Providing internet services to every Atherton resident matches that mission.

26 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Oct 7, 2016 at 7:59 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

It is fascinating to watch the Republic of Atherton as the Town Council tries to secede from the rest of the county, State and Nation.

Their motto is "I've got mine and I don't want to share with anybody else".

Clearly having homes with high walls and gates has led the Council to believe that they should become a nation of their own with no responsibility for the larger community in which they live.

First, fire services - steal property tax money from the residents of East Palo Alto and Menlo Park to enrich the Town of Atherton.

Next, library services - make sure than none of "our" tax money goes outside our borders. Clue - the property tax money is not the Town's money - it is the taxpayers money.

What is next?

Border controls?
Trade agreements?
Atherton Air Force?
Atherton Navy?
Atherton Army?

Fortunately the vast majority of Atherton residents,other than the Town Council members,recognize that they are part of a larger community,county,State and Nation in which all of them work,shop,contribute and benefit.

6 people like this
Posted by Private army
a resident of Atherton: other
on Oct 7, 2016 at 11:59 am

The Atherton Army isn't next. We've had it for a long time. This has been the entire justification for the Atherton Police Department. Atherton's own private army.

Like this comment
Posted by Atherton Taxpayer
a resident of Atherton: other
on Oct 8, 2016 at 1:06 pm

"Apple" is correct. If Andrew Carnegie were alive today he would be funding "Internet Learning Cafes" & not just brick & motor fixed size hard copy libraries. The Atherton Library's mission should be to provide full access for all Atherton residents to full, global knowledge. Thus, the new "Atherton Library System" should consist of:
1) Updated (but not much larger) brick & mortar building with:
- Selected books - probably skewed toward children & Senior Adults
- An "Internet Cafe" area where computers are available to access the WWW, probably with an "outsourced" vender that provides upscale coffee, tea, light food, etc. at certain hours.
2) A very high speed Fiber/Wi-Fi internet service to all Atherton residents at no fixed, or annual charge
3) High speed connections to the other local libraries so they can access Atherton's Library

IF there is money left over every year (& I very much doubt that there will be), reduce the Atherton residents's taxes:
1) Not everyone in 94027 has unlimited money for all worthy causes
2) Taxes paid to San Mateo County, the State, etc. are our "Fair Share"

I would like my Atherton taxes to provide maximum value to Atherton residenst.

A concerned Atherton taxpayer!

Like this comment
Posted by Apple
a resident of Atherton: other
on Oct 9, 2016 at 1:03 pm

@Atherton Taxpayer

From what I understand, the library tax cannot be rebated to Atherton residents. This is county or state law to prevent cities from starving their library services through tax rebates or diverting the money to other government spending. Atherton is a special case because we generate more library tax than we need, but the same law applies.

I also agree not to share Atherton taxes with other jurisdictions since there are areas of need our town has for its own information services that aren't yet met, such as fiber service.

2 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Oct 9, 2016 at 1:51 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

This is what California State Law and the JPA state the library can do:


19400. A library district may be organized, as provided in this
chapter. The library district may establish, equip, and maintain a
public library for the dissemination of knowledge of the arts,
sciences, and general literature and may exercise the powers granted
or necessarily implied pursuant to this chapter."

Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 9, 2016 at 5:51 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

That's vague.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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