City Manager's Blog

The City Manager's Blog is an online educational tool to provide general information to the community in open communication style. Periodically, the City Manager will post articles of general interest covering topics such as the Town's budget, budget process, capital projects, upcoming meetings, community issues, public safety, and general Town operations.

Articles in the blog are not designed as press releases or Town publications, rather, they are written in more of a conversational style. The Blog does not have a comments feature but readers are free to respond to the Blog and its entries view email directly to the City Manager.

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Feb 25

What's In A Library?

Posted on February 25, 2015 at 5:02 PM by grodericks grodericks

Meeting InformationLibrary Services

I used to say that I always wanted to write a book and tell the true stories of public service. In my chosen profession I get to interact with a lot of people in all walks of life. I see them at their best; I see them at their worst; and of course, everywhere in between. I am often lucky enough to be able to address issues relating to their quality of life. I facilitate solutions. I lead people. I manage organizations and projects physically and financially. I put out fires. I juggle competing priorities and interests on a regular basis. I communicate. And during the course of all of that, I edit, write, and re-write - a lot. And you know what? I don't want to write a book any more.

But that doesn't mean that others do not despite the pervasive perception that libraries are a thing of the past...they're not. Instead, they're evolving, re-inventing themselves, re-visioning, re-purposing and re-creating their spaces to become the echo of the needs of their communities.

So what's in our Library?

That's where we want your input. We want you to help us define our library, its services and programs, its spaces and its evolution. We'll guarantee the basics - you guarantee its future. That's all part of the Civic Center Project and as that project moves forward there will be numerous public meetings to discuss the look, the feel, the vibrancy, and the programs and services of our Library. You are a part of that.  But before we head down that path, there are few things about our Library that we need you to understand. The first, is its history. Not the history of the library itself, but the history of library services in the County, the finances of how they operate, and the future issues on the horizon. 

How It All Started (i.e. History)

SMCLThe San Mateo County Free Public Library was established by the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors in 1912, under the authority of the County Library Law of 1911. The underlying legislation supporting County Free Public Libraries provided for participation in the levy of a tax specifically dedicated and restricted for library purposes. The property taxes collected for the district are allocated directly to the San Mateo County Library (SMCL) system to provide library services within an established geographic area. Over the years, as cities and towns incorporated, these now "member cities" joined the San Mateo County Free Public Library, virtually automatically, because the County Library tax levy already overlaid the properties within the new city. 

In 1999, the San Mateo County Library Joint Powers Authority (Library JPA) was established. The Library JPA now comprises the cities of Atherton, Belmont, Brisbane, East Palo Alto, Foster City, Half Moon Bay, Millbrae, Pacifica, Portola Valley, San Carlos, Woodside, and the unincorporated areas of the county. More than 286,000 people live within the boundaries of the SMCL legal taxing district which covers 351 square miles.

Who’s In Charge (Governance)

The Library JPA structure approved in 1999 overlays the San Mateo County Library but does not replace it. The Library JPA operates from an Agreement that provides rules and regulations, legal restrictions and requirements applicable to County Free Library Law. Maintaining the designation as a County Free Public Library allows the system to remain a taxing entity and provide the Library JPA with its primary source of funding. The Library JPA provides governance for the San Mateo County Free Public Library system.

The Library JPA has a Board of Directors consisting of representatives from each member entity. A representative from the Atherton Town Council sits on the Board. Oversight responsibility, the ability to conduct independent financial affairs, approve budgets, sign contracts, and otherwise influence operations and account for fiscal matters is exercised by the Board. The Library JPA Board:

  • Provides policy direction and governance for the Library System
  • Carries out the functions as required in the JPA Agreement
  • Approves the budget and disposition of revenues for Library System Services
  • Approves and oversees the services and programs of the Library System.

The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors, acting on the recommendation of the Library JPA Governing Board, adopts by July 1 of each year an annual operating budget for the Library JPA.

Our Library

library garden
Our Library, approximately 4,800 square feet, features a beautiful garden beneath historic trees behind the library, an extensive physical and digital book collection, magazines, newspapers, and more. In fact, the our library enjoys the shared circulation of the entire San Mateo County Free Library System. The service area of our library exceeds the boundaries of our Town and our library has a service area population of anywhere between 13,000 to 15,000 people.

inside library
The Town has responsibility for maintenance, repair and all capital improvements to new and existing library facilities. These responsibilities and associated costs can include facility construction and/or renovation, utilities, custodial services, landscaping, and general maintenance tied directly to the library facility. Library staff and library resources (i.e. circulation materials) are provided by the County via the JPA Agreement.

Overall, the total San Mateo County Library system covers an area with a population of 275,000. The SMCL has 12 branches and a bookmobile that provide a source of books, periodicals, newspapers and information in multiple languages. The libraries provide access to computers and the Internet, online databases, music, videos, business resources, and educational research. The website or “e-Branch” provides access to a wealth of information and is accessible in each branch library or from a resident’s personal computer at home, work, or school. 

The San Mateo County Library also responds to the informational, educational and cultural needs of the community by offering a broad range of programs for children, teens and adults including author readings, lectures, films, exhibits, dance and musical performances. Outreach services include book club readings provided to incarcerated youth, and programs offered in settings such as schools, low-income clinics and shelters. Educational programming includes homework help assistance, computer training, and literacy services for children, families and adults. 

Identified Needs

The Atherton Library completed a Needs Assessment in 2010. The Library Needs Assessment suggests that the library has some significant challenges to providing the services the community presently desires. These include:

  • Inability to house an adequate collection;
  • A need to increase the number and types of seating areas;
  • A need to increase the number of public computers;
  • A need to provide areas for library related programs and events; and
  • A need to create spaces or zones for various uses, such as quiet study areas, browsing areas, and spaces dedicated for children and teens.

As discussed above, the portion of dedicated property tax attributed to the SMCL is a portion of the general tax (equal to 1% of the assessed value of a property). Tax rates are based on the percent of taxes the library system received prior to Proposition 13. The passage of Proposition 13 in 1978 and subsequent legal determinations put the State in charge of the allocation of local property taxes and set in place the basic tax rate based on a proportionate sharing of the tax in place. Proposition 13 established limitations on increases in assessed value and set the maximum general property tax rate at 1%. The SMCL now has a fixed percentage of the property tax, and this cannot be effectively re-allocated due to the constitutional provisions in place. The average tax rate for San Mateo County Library is $0.032. This means that for every $100 of assessed value of a property, the San Mateo County Library tax is approximately 3.2 cents. The primary source of revenue for the San Mateo County Library is property taxes. Approximately 90% of operating revenues are derived from these taxes dedicated for library purposes.

Over the years, the property values in Atherton have increased significantly; but the cost to provide library services has not. That means that the amount of revenue collected from Atherton residents via the basic property tax exceeds the amount of revenue needed to operate our basic library. Prior members of the City Council and JPA Board recognized this and created “donor fund” provisions within the JPA Agreement for these excess funds.
The Library JPA Agreement provides that in the event that the allocated library service revenue (i.e. the property tax collected from Atherton residents) exceeds the amount required to maintain the minimum library service for each city (Atherton), the excess funds shall be spent on library related activities within that city library. The Town can and does use these excess funds for basic facility maintenance, basic remodeling or expansion, increased service hours, and increased book purchases. The uses must be mutually agreed by the Library JPA and the respective City Council and must also be consistent with requirements applicable to County Free Library Law.

But, again, as one would expect, the property tax revenue collected for Atherton far exceeds the cost to provide basic services and even enhanced services for the Atherton Library. That’s where you come in. As of June 30, 2014, the Town has approximately $8.6 million held in trust for the library.  These funds were saved over the years from the excess property tax funds. Nearly $2 million is collected each year for library services in Atherton and nearly $1 million is set aside each year as excess from that $2 million.  

word cloudWe will use a large portion of the excess funds in the effort to re-vision, re-create, and evolve the current Atherton Library with your help and input. But after that, then what?

Issues on the Horizon

We’d like to talk to you about that. The City Council is hosting a meeting in April to discuss what to do after we’ve built our new library.

When: April 1, 2015, 4 pm City Council Study Session
Where: Holbrook-Palmer Park Pavilion
What: A Discussion of Library Services - Issues and Funding

As mentioned, the Town has approximately $8.6 million held in trust as of June 30, 2014. That number could grow to nearly $12 million by 2018 - but we'll draw it down year after year as we put the shovel in the ground toward our new library. We will use nearly $10 million plus of those funds to build, outfit, and operate the new library.  After completion of the new library, the Town could have approximately $2 million remaining in the library trust account. Then, year after year, the Town will receive approximately $500,000 - $750,000 in excess funds (excess funds). It will likely cost more to operate a 9,000 square foot library (example only) than the current 4,800 square foot library. These are all round numbers for discussion only, not exact. 

The Library JPA Board is committed to allowing the Town to finish its new library project. That said, once we complete the new library, the Library JPA has articulated potential uses for these future funds outside of the service area of our library. The current JPA Agreement does not allow the funds to be spent outside of our service area. However, the JPA Agreement can be amended - by majority vote of the members of the JPA Board. An amendment could re-purpose the excess funds collected from Atherton residents. To address this issue, the Town has a number of options ranging from a negotiated re-purposing of the funds to withdrawal from the JPA to even considering a re-allocation of property tax revenues.

Some Options In Discussion

Legislative - the Town could seek obtain State legislative support to amend the established property tax amount under Proposition 13. However, doing so would not eliminate the tax; rather, it would reduce the tax revenue to the Library but re-allocate the difference amongst the various taxing authorities within Atherton (including the Town). All would get a portion of the Library tax - Atherton, Fire District, County of San Mateo, County Education, Mosquito Abatement, Bay Area Air Pollution, Sequoia Hospital District, Menlo Park Elementary, etc.

Withdrawal from the JPA - the Town could withdraw from the JPA.  The Town could give written notice by July 1 of any given year of its intent to withdraw from the Library JPA effective July 1 of the following year. If the Town withdraws from the JPA, we are not entitled to a return of any funds contributed to the Library JPA. In other words, that $2 million amount held in trust by the County after we build the new library becomes County funds. The Town would receive all subsequent library property tax proceeds collected in Atherton. The use of these funds would continue to be bound by the legal restrictions and requirements applicable to County Free Library Law and restricted to library purposes only. At the time of withdrawal, the County and Town could agree as to what books or other library materials, furniture and equipment obtained by the Library JPA could remain with the Town - on the condition that such property and materials will be used for public library purposes and available to all residents of San Mateo County at no charge. No members have withdrawn from the JPA since its inception in 1999. There are a number of hurdles associated with withdrawal, not the least of which is the continuing requirement to provide library services. The Town would absorb employees, employee costs, the costs of circulation, and any associated long-term liability related thereto - but, all services, programs, assets, and personnel would be under Town control. 

Negotiated Share - the Town could also negotiate with the Library JPA Board for application of the excess funds each year. The cost to operate a library of 4,800 square feet is less than the cost to operate a library of 9,000 square feet (again, example only) - plus any associated expanded programs, hours, and services. So, theoretically, there would be less gain every year on the excess funds. The Town could negotiate for a set amount of those funds to be allocated locally for Atherton library services and then allow the County to allocate the difference, with input from the Town (such as grant approval, district use, etc.), in specific areas of the County that might provide benefit and services to Atherton residents. 

The Town has a number of recent and historic documents on its website that are of relevance with respect to our library. You can find them linked here. In addition, as the Civic Center Project moves along, there will be numerous community meetings and other ways to engage in visioning our library. 

But the first understanding the funding of our library and helping the Council shape that discussion moving forward.

Will I see you there?

meeting info

George Rodericks
City Manager
Town of Atherton
(650) 752-0504