Sunday, June 17, 2012

Pomona library closure: Where's the money?

Recently, the Troy, Michigan Public Library won a major advertising award for its satirical campaign, Book Burning Party. The Troy City Council placed a 0.07% property tax increase to fund the library and prevent cuts to other services, stating that the library would be closed if the tax didn't pass. The local Tea Party was focusing public attention on the tax increase, and the election was a low-turnout summer election that generally skews conservative. In order to re-frame the conversation, some library supporters posted signs for a book burning party following closure of the library, only to reveal two weeks before the election that this was all reverse psychology - although not without some passionate discussion generated, and dismay from some library supporters who wanted a more above board campaign. Even today the deceptive method of this advertising (hat tip Metafilter) has caused controversy.

Unfortunately, Pomona residents may never get to vote on this decision. While two City tax increases are on the ballot in November (increasing the hotel tax and the property transfer tax), no general tax increase is on the ballot, nor the "fire services tax" explicitly referred to as a condition of the County Fire approval to close down Fire Station 181.

In fact, the last time Pomona had to vote in a tax increase, it was actively opposed by City Councilmembers. That would be Measure SP, otherwise known as the "Mendoza tax increase", which was on the ballot in the November 2010 general election.

For those unfamiliar with local politics, John Mendoza is a local community activist that currently serves as the elected representative for North Pomona on the Three Valleys Municipal Water District. Over the years, he has pursued various initiatives for the city and the school district, such as the recent effort to partition school district voters into districts.

The Mendoza tax would have increased the utility tax by 2% for 26 months. Passage of the tax would have generated $3.9 million for this fiscal year and $3.575 million for the next fiscal year, enough to fund the library and pay off County fire. But Councilmember Freddie Rodriguez helped stop it, on the basis of a fanciful notion of wooing Fry's Electronics to the city. While long term developments like the proposed Target Center at the former auto center property were in the works, they will take a few years to start generating funds due to the long environmental process these projects take. Other councilmembers were either openly opposed to it or stayed silent.

Surprisingly, public employee unions did not get behind the initiative either, seeing that there was not any organization other than Mendoza himself behind the measure. They may have also been scared off by the previous Mendoza tax, a 1% increase in the utility tax, which also drew no organized campaigns in favor of the measure, and failed as expected.

In this informational review dated in 2008, the City Manager also discusses other sources of revenue, such as fully charging the cost of street lighting or landscape maintenance to taxpayers, instead of paying it through the general fund. Still others, like the trash transfer stations proposed on the east end of town, have been mired in an ongoing proxy war between two large waste haulers. Both of those could have generated enough money to save the library, and not at any large destruction to the City's image, as this list shows.

It certainly seems, however, that city leaders have no belief that the voters of Pomona will accept any tax increases or revenue enhancements, even when the remaining options are presented to them.

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