OAKLEY -- Although city leaders here are leaning toward moving Oakley's tiny library into a larger retail space downtown, they're asking the project's supporters to show them a marketing plan before putting a parcel tax to voters.
Friends of the Oakley Library, the nonprofit group that has brought the idea to the city for its consideration, is championing the CentroMart site because it's centrally located, about five times larger than the library's existing quarters and a cost-effective alternative to constructing a building from the ground up.
The library currently is housed at Freedom High School, where it occupies about 3,000 square feet of a building that also contains the campus' own book collection.
Oakley's repository has outgrown that space, which no longer can accommodate all the books, children's activities and study areas that advocates say patrons want.
As such, the city is considering asking residents whether they would agree to a $52 annual parcel tax for 30 years to generate the approximately $5 million needed to renovate the now-vacant grocery store.
Although the county operates the library, it provides funding only for personnel, books and the other resources on its shelves.
The ballot measure would require a two-thirds approval to pass, and the election would cost the city an estimated $92,000, funds it would recover only if the parcel tax succeeds.
That kind of financial gamble is something that doesn't sit well with Oakley resident Michael Burkholder.
"I think you're making a big mistake taking a downtown asset and turning it into a liability," he told the council at its meeting Tuesday, adding that it should inspect Friends of the Oakley Library's financial statements to see whether the organization can afford to reimburse the city for holding an election even if the tax measure fails.
Some council members expressed reservations about committing city funds to a plan before it had been fully thought through and advised the dozens of library enthusiasts in the audience that the onus was on them to drum up the 66 percent approval the tax requires.
"If you want this to happen, you will organize, and you will be willing to give your time," Councilwoman Carol Rios said.
"Facebook isn't going to do it," added Councilwoman Diane Burgis, noting that Friends of the Oakley Library's plans to pitch the project to the public will have to include considerably more than a social media campaign. "You're asking us to invest in a plan."
Persuading residents to pay at least $52 a year -- that amount could increase by up to 2 percent annually to cover the cost of inflation -- likely will be a tough sell given the public's current anti-tax mood, Councilman Randy Pope said.
Representatives of the nonprofit noted that the survey they mailed to 500 random residents last month showed a "significant" support for the project.
But a review of the completed survey -- a document that wasn't included among the supporting attachments the city posted online with Tuesday's agenda -- shows that only 44 to 78 people answered each question, a minute fraction of Oakley's approximately 36,000 residents.
Forty-nine individuals indicated they likely or definitely would back the ballot measure.
"That is not overwhelming support," Councilman Doug Hardcastle said. "There are thousands more people out there you have to convince."
And if they don't succeed on a first attempt, taxpayers will be even less inclined to give them a second chance, Pope said.
"We need to do it right the first time," he said. "We can't have two bites of the apple." The council instructed Friends of the Oakley Library to present a more detailed plan at the Feb. 12 meeting, when it might decide whether to proceed with an election.
Contact Rowena Coetsee at 925-779-7141. Follow her on Twitter.com/RowenaCoetsee.