The Coastal Post - August, 1997

Right Or Wrong, Supes Approve Library Funding

By Don Deane

Two weeks ago Marin County Supervisors approved two library parcel taxes in perpetuity (or until the Gann spending limit is reached because of increasing property values). The question at the supervisors' meeting was whether to put the issue back on the ballot because it was a "four-year measure" which voters believed needed approval for an additional four years, or to go with a new interpretation of the tax which would mean voters wouldn't need to re-approve four more years unless the Gann appropriations limit was exceeded.

The vote to extend the tax for four more years (or forever) might not have been taken had anyone protested the action at the meeting. There was no protest. There was no opposition from Marin United Taxpayers or any other watchdog group in the county, probably a reflection of general support for the libraries and the recognition that the funding is needed.

There is, however, an issue to be addressed by this action of the supervisors. They must have thought the tax measure had a four year sunset clause, why else would the issue come up at all after four years? To see if the Gann "appropriation limit" had been reached?

Talking with county staff and elected politicians was confusing.

Supervisor Hal Brown: "I was real involved in the tax measure as it pertained to Fairfax. I'm looking for a straight answer to give you. Legally we have the right to do this. The ballot language leaves the impression that it might have come up every four years. The action we took was because County Council said we didn't have to put it back on the ballot." Brown was on the board four years ago.

Supervisor John Kress: "I think some people thought it was really for four years. Other people thought it was indefinite. There were a lot of crossed signals and communication.

"There are two aspects of the tax. Part of it does have to be approved every four years if it exceeds the Gann Limit. I don't think it's fair to say that everyone knew one way or the other. Again, it was poorly handled. There was a lot of stumbling and bumbling about.

"For every person who said they were misled, there is someone who says not so. I think the equities weighed on the side of maintaining a tax and not putting it to the voters. It's easy to say re-submit it to the voters. But that is expensive. There has to be a campaign.

"I looked at the 1994 campaign literature and it contained some incorrect information. The county council's analysis indicated it was a four year tax. The supervisors thought it was indefinite. Even though county council said it was not. Three members of the board were not there. County council has since changed. Hal Brown and Annette Brown were on the board then." Supervisor Kress was not on the board four years ago.

Acting County Librarian Gail Haar: "County Librarian Anne Apple retired last August. There's been a complete change in the administration since the Special Assessment was passed. I think the supervisors spoke fairly clearly May 6 and last week. Legally the language is perfectly clear. It says the tax is in perpetuity. It is standard language for similar measures. It would only need to go back to the ballot if we needed an appropriations limit. I don't know if anyone was surprised or whether there was just a question about it having to go back to the ballot. I sat through both of the meetings on the supervisors agenda. At the last meeting one of the volunteers in the election said she had never told anyone it was four years. What the original intent was, I don't know. I don't know how it was promoted. We've gotten no calls at all about it. We were really happy about that. There were two elections. Fairfax and West Marin was Measure L. Then there was Measure K a year later for Corte Madera."

Acting County Council Patrick Falkner: "It wasn't me personally, it was Tom Hendricks. He retired last Friday. It was because the ordinance that was enacted didn't require it. There is no legal reason to go back to the voters because of the "appropriations" limit language. If the limit was reached in the future and property values increased explosively, then the funds would have to be approved again by the voters."

The Impartial Analysis of Measure L by County Counsel Tom Hendricks in January of 1994 reads: "If this measure is approved by two-thirds vote, the ordinance of the Board of Supervisors of the County of Marin imposing a special tax for library services not to exceed Thirty-Six Dollars ($36.00) per year for each parcel located within Special Taxing Zone No. 2 of the Marin County Free Library System commencing in the 1994-1995 fiscal year will be confirmed, and the appropriations limit of the County insofar as they pertain to the Marin County Free Library System shall be increased in the amount of the proceeds of the tax for a period of four (4) years."

The Impartial Analysis by Corte Madera Town Attorney of Measure K reads: "Article XIIIA of the California Constitution permits the Town of Corte Madera to impose a special tax on property within the Town by a two-thirds vote, the Resolution of the Town Council of the Town of Corte Madera imposing a special tax for library services on each parcel of property within the Town of Corte Madera, not to exceed thirty-six dollars ($36.00) per year for each parcel located within the Town of Corte Madera, shall be confirmed and be made effective, and the appropriations limit of the Town of Corte Madera shall be increased in the amount of the proceeds of the tax for a period of four (4) years. Under the Measure the tax would be imposed commencing with the 1994-1995 fiscal year.

"The County of Marin has submitted a similar parcel tax measure for library services to the voter in Marin County's Special Tax Zone No. 2, which generally consists of southern, eastern and northern Marin County (excepting the Town of Corte Madera and other municipalities). Measure K and the Council Resolution mentioned above will not be effective, even if approved by two-thirds vote of the Town's electorate, in the event the companion Marin County measure for Special Tax Zone No. 2 is not approved by the requisite two-thirds vote of those voting in the Special Tax Zone No. 2 election."

Tempest in the Coastal Post's tea pot? Maybe. The issue is what the voters believed they were voting for in 1994. The Coastal Post was led to believe in interviews and from campaign literature that the library measures had a four year limit. Will other parcel taxes be re-interpreted as they come up for re-votes? Does the general public understand what an appropriations limit is and how it works? What if the supervisors had reinterpreted and extended an unpopular tax?

County voters turned down a new jail three times at the polls and county government went ahead and built the jail. The legal interpretation: deciding to build the jail was an administrative rather than a legislative function.

These kinds of decisions, even for a worthy cause, undermine voter confidence in our democratic system of government. That price is be too high even if it means saving $300,000 in election costs.