Jeff Ackerman

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December 7, 2009
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Jeff Ackerman: How about 5 bucks each to keep the libraries open?

There are only a few things I feel I'm entitled to, starting with the right to my opinion, a little bit of space for some fresh air and the ability to move about freely, without fear of being assaulted, or bum-rushed by Viagra salesmen.

There are, on the other hand, many things that I like and love, but I've never confused them with entitlements, respecting the notion that they could disappear as easily as they appear.

"Ask not," advised JFK, "what your country can do for you." That was well before I learned what my country can do to me.

And so it is with this library issue. I love libraries, but I've never looked at them as something I am entitled to have. We seem to have become a society of entitled, where many believe they are owed far more than they are, or that society can afford to provide.

Over the years I have ripped various government leaders for spending my hard-earned tax money foolishly. Government and waste have become synonymous.

Nevada County leaders, then, ought to be congratulated for at least exploring privatization of our libraries. One of the reasons our county isn't broke today despite the unfortunate circumstances of being geographically located within the boundaries of the financially-bankrupt California is because we have people such as CEO Rick Haffey and a fiscally conservative Board of Supervisors watching every nickel and dime.

They recognized that the library system's primary funding mechanism (sales taxes) were not going to be able to pay the library bills very much longer and, rather than wait for the system to collapse, started exploring options. That's exactly what you would hope to see from any CEO in any operation. It's his job.

If you know Haffey, you will know that he also loves libraries. He is a father who knows the value that public libraries provide our children as they make their way through school and beyond. He didn't wake up one day last summer wondering how he might get 65,000 or so library cardholders upset with him. He did his homework and discovered that some public libraries today have managed to solve their financial problems through private-public partnerships and he decided to take a closer look. He spent hours and hours researching those partnerships and, in the end, determined it was at least something worth closer examination.

It was, as they say in business, the prudent thing to do. His job is to provide the five-member Board of Supervisors with information it can use to make informed decisions. If I were on the board, I would expect that our CEO reviewed all options, no matter how crazy they seemed. Today's economy calls for extreme measures. Ask any business owner in town.

In the end, it will be the five elected supervisors, not Haffey, who will make a final library decision. And I doubt that any elected official who hopes to get re-elected (and two of them recently announced they will be seeking new terms next year) will vote to privatize our public libraries. I am not a political consultant, but my guess is that there is strong sentiment against that proposal and it's coming mostly from people who vote.

That means the Board of Supervisors and the library officials will need to come up with other options if they want to keep the libraries open. At the top of the list is a tax hike. I've already heard talk that some will propose at least another one-eighth-cent sales tax increase to help fund the libraries. Some have even suggested that voters will even go for another penny sales tax increase to fund the libraries.

Not this taxpayer. I won't support any sales tax increase and I doubt anyone who runs a small business in this county will.

Prior to voters approving the one-eighth-cent sales tax to help fund the libraries, the system had some 13 employees. Once the tax money started rolling in, the number of library employees almost tripled, proving once again that more taxes generally leads to bigger government. And with businesses shrinking today, why should government grow?

Besides ... in case you are one of the many unemployed and missed it ... the state recently started taking more tax money out of our paychecks. Our problems today are not a result of us not paying enough taxes.

There is a much more efficient and equitable way to solve the library funding problems. For the cost of one Blockbuster video rental per year, the 65,000 library card holders could generate an estimated $500,000, wiping out the estimated $400,000 library system shortfall.

"No way!" they may shout. "Libraries are supposed to be free to all!"

Guess what. As long as they are funded by tax dollars, they aren't free. Never have been. If the 65,000 or so card holders (I'm one of them) don't think their libraries are worth a $5 annual donation, I can only assume they somehow feel they are entitled.

Can't afford $5 per year? Fine. How about $3, or less than the cost of one Grande Latte at Starbucks? Or the cost of one cold beer at your favorite watering hole? Or the cost of 5,000 text messages? Or a fraction of the cost for high-speed DSL Internet access? Or ... heaven forbid ... half the cost of one ticket to see "New Moon"?

For the sake or argument, let's say only 40,000 of the 65,000 card holders can afford $5 per year (that the other 25,000 never rent movies, visit Starbucks, have cell phones, Internet access, or paid to see "New Moon"). That would provide the libraries with $200,000 per year and, with the other cuts, the problem is solved. At least for a couple of years.

But in this economy, with our small businesses struggling to compete with the big-box stores and with Internet sites that do not charge sales taxes, I'm hoping voters won't consider a sales tax increase.

I plan to do whatever I can to oppose it.

As much as I love libraries, I also love schools, law enforcement, fire protection, good highways and government buildings that are open every day (our courthouses and city halls are not these days). So how about we hike the sales taxes a penny for each one of those? Maybe we can get that tax to 50 cents on the dollar, raising the prices of everything we buy at a time when we can't afford to buy much of anything.

Times are tough, folks. If we want to keep our library doors open, maybe it's time to take some personal responsibility and not brush it off to those who may not appreciate the libraries as much as we do.

Just let me know where to send my $5.

Jeff Ackerman is the editor/publisher of The Union. His column appears on Tuesdays. Contact him at 477-4299 or

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The Union Updated Dec 8, 2009 02:06AM Published Dec 7, 2009 11:25PM Copyright 2009 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.