Does the Berkeley Public Library Deserve Another Tax Increase? Probably Not: By DEAN METZGER and DAVID WILSON

Tuesday October 12, 2004

Editors, Daily Planet: 

Measure “L” on Berkeley’s November ballot asks for 16 percent increase in the Library Tax. The total tax for an average homeowner would be about $300 a year if Measure L passes. This would increase every year afterwards by five per cent, effectively doubling over the next 13 years without any further vote of the people. 

The proponents have a mantra: “We all love the library, don’t we?”. As if that should be the end of the discussion. 

But should it? We all love our kids too. That d oes not stop us from asking questions when we think they’re doing something wrong. 

The question here is why, given the unprecedented generosity of Berkeley property owners, can’t the library live within its means? Despite all the talk about state cutback s and the economic slowdown, the library’s revenues keep going up far faster than inflation, just over 45 percent in five years: 

Year Revenues Increase from Prior Year 

1999: $8,495,000 

2000: $8,752,000 +3.03 percent 

2001: $9,197,000 +5.08 percent 

2002: $9,719,000 +5.68 percent 

2003: $10,532,000 +8.37 percent 

2004: $12,353,000 +17.29 percent 

Total percent increase 1999-2004: +45.41 percent 

What’s going on here? We all know the population of Berkeley is stable or falling. We also know that many libra ry functions have been automated, and that this should save on staffing costs. 

The answer is two-fold. First is a lack of basic controls over spending procedures within the library. Second is a wage and benefit package that is far, far more generous than in the private sector. 


Cost Controls 

In June of this year the City Auditor issued a detailed—and scathing—report. It included findings that it was “not uncommon for purchases to be made without a requisition or purchase order” (p. 6), that “voucher for ms are being inappropriately used” (p. 2), that “63 percent of purchase orders did not include a purchase order amount” (p. 8), that “there is almost no documentation” that multiple bids were being solicited as required (p. 8), and that “approximately hal f of the Library’s 149 budgeted cost centers are not submitting library material orders that have been reviewed and approved by a supervisor” (p. 12). The Auditor’s concluded that these failures “can lead to overspending”. Indeed. 

Then there are the wage/benefit packages. In flusher times, the city’s unions negotiated guaranteed annual wage increases of five percent (far more than cost of living), and a package of benefits including free YMCA memberships, full health care and pension guarantees: all fund ed 100 percent by the city. The mayor’s own Citizens Budget Review Commission finds that this fact alone has resulted in a “structural deficit” that will continue even with tax increases. 

What all this means is the city generally and the library in parti cular must answer hard questions before asking Berkeley homeowners to further increase tax bills which are already the highest in the state. 

We all love our kids. But when they overspend their allowance, we don’t reward them with an increase.  

It’s call ed “tough love.” 


Dean Metzger 

President, Claremont Elmwood  

Neighborhood Association  

David M. Wilson,  

Steering Committee, Berkeleyans Against Soaring Taxes