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Local Library Board to Consider Negotiating With County Over $80 Card, Share of Los Altos Services

The NCLA meets on Veterans Day to decide how to proceed, after the county responds to concerns of inequities and the new $80 library fee for residents living outside the library district.

After a summer of saber-rattling, the board governing the Santa Clara County Library District appears ready to negotiate with Los Altos and Los Altos Hills.

The vice chair of the Joint Powers Authority (JPA), which governs the county library board, wrote in an Oct. 31 letter that the board plans to review the funding formula that divvies up library services among the nine member cities at its next meeting in January.

"In response to the concern that the funding formula ...does not acccurately reflect the property tax contributions of Los Altos and Los Altos Hills, the JPA board intends to review the funding formula ... including consideration of establishing an ad hoc committee," wrote Lana Malloy, the JPA Vice-Chair and a Monte Sereno City Council member, in response the letter from Los Altos Mayor Ron Packard.

The board also has directed staff bring back a plan to exempt library volunteers from the $80 fee that the two cities have vocally opposed since the decision was made last spring to charge residents outside of the library district.

Now, officials representing Los Altos and Los Altos Hills will decide their next move during an unusual holiday meeting Friday afternoon. This includes how to with the county, and, at the same time, the question of whether to authorize a feasibility study to leave the county library district, said Jean Mordo, chair of the North County Library Authority (NCLA). 

instituted July 1 for non-residents of the Santa Clara County Library District, the mayors of Los Altos and Los Altos Hills wrote the JPA in July, asking for the fee to be waived for library volunteers and community college students.

In fact, Los Altos Mayor Ron Packard asked for the fee to be eliminated altogether in his July 27 letter, which the JPA rejected.

The issue has been simmering since the April 2011 JPA vote to charge the fee. While Los Altos and Los Altos Hills residents are not affected, the Los Altos Library, in particular, draws residents from Palo Alto and Mountain View, which are not part of the library district. The library's very active cadre of volunteers also includes many who are not  district residents.

Anger over the fee prompted Mordo to suggest so that it would not have to charge the fee. It also precipitated a reexamination of what Mordo has contended is a grossly unequal fund sharing arrangement with the library district. What Los Altos and Los Altos Hills puts into the library district in the form of property taxes, and what it actually gets, which Mordo estimates at $1 million annually.

In his strongly worded letter to Dave Cortese, the president of the county Board of Supervisors, Packard pointed out that Los Altos puts in 22 percent of property tax revenues and only gets 16.9 percent of the benefits. The gap in services was estimated as low as $400,000 by county library staff and as high as $1.4 million annually, according to an informal estimate of another financial analyst, Packard wrote.

"While our Council does not feel the need for exactitude or full equality, the difference of over $1 million does become a concern," Packard wrote.

"Our two communities just went through the ordeal of imposing on ourselves an extra parcel tax just to keep the library hours and books at an acceptable level, and the extra parcel tax is surprisingly similar to the extra contribution being made by our communities to the libraries of other cities."

Packard also sits on the board of the NCLA, which administers funds raised by a $76 parcel tax in Los Altos and Los Altos Hills to support the Los Altos Library and the Woodland branch.

Th cities' powerlessness to contain county library personnel costs while having to raise funds was also brought up by Packard. He requested that the county negotiate two-tier pension benefits provisions to new employees whenever it involved county JPA staff, because growing benefits costs diminish funds available to pay for library hours and books. He further requested that union rules restricting what volunteers could do be eliminated in future union contract negotiations.

The NCLA is scheduled to meet Friday at 5:30 p.m. in the (181 Hillview Ave, Los Altos) to discuss what course it should take. Mordo, who chairs NCLA, said Thursday he hoped to ask Los Altos and Los Altos Hills to delegate himself and Packard to negotiate with the JPA committee.

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Editor's note: The NCLA's agenda and related correspondence between the JPA and the cities of Los Altos and Los Altos Hills are contained in the pdf document above and to the right.

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