HAYWARD -- The city is asking June voters to raise the sales tax by half a cent to 9.5 percent to pay for a new library, more police officers and repairing potholes.
If a majority of voters approve Measure C, it would raise an estimated $10 million a year. Which projects and services it would pay for were based on a city survey of residents, said Mayor Michael Sweeney.
"What we heard from folks is they want to improve public safety and see the infrastructure improved," Sweeney said.
The money also would be used to update fire stations and improve firefighting and emergency medical services.
"We have a lot of fire stations that were built in the '50s, and they have lots of problems," Sweeney said.
But replacing the Main Library is the largest project the tax would pay for. The city wants to erect a three-story, $60 million library across the street from the existing building at C Street and Mission Boulevard.
Hayward needs to come up with $50 million for the project; Calpine donated $10 million for library construction as part of an agreement when the energy company built its power plant near the shoreline.
The new building would have a teen center, a digital media lab and homework centers. It would offer more meeting space and Internet access than the current library, which opened in 1951, when the city had 14,000 residents. Today, more than 150,000 people call Hayward home.
Hayward has 0.23 square feet of library space per resident, lower than any other city in Alameda, Santa Clara or San Mateo counties.
A critic of the proposed sales tax increase says some of the ballot wording is similar to that used for a utility users tax, Measure A, that city voters approved in 2009.¿
"We already passed a utility tax for the same reason, police and firefighters. So what happened to that money?" asked resident Larry Johmann.
That tax, said Hayward's assistant city manager, was to stave off police and firefighting cutbacks, not make improvements. "Measure A was to preserve services in the midst of the recession we were facing," Kelly McAdoo said.
Johmann opposes raising the sales tax, saying Hayward should renovate the existing Main Library using the $10 million from Calpine, possibly expanding it, instead of building a larger structure.
Expanding the current building would be difficult because historic trees, some more than 100 years old, surround it, the library director said.
"There have been a number of studies that show $10 million wouldn't get us far in our needs for a population that is 10 times as large as it was when the library was constructed," Sean Reinhart said.
Johmann questioned the need for more library space as digital devices become more popular.
"It's not that I have anything against libraries, but times have changed," he said. "We obtain most of our information through the Internet; printed books are becoming obsolete."
However, the numbers show the library is popular: More than 400,000 people visited it last year, and its computers logged more than 120,000 Internet sessions, averaging 40 minutes. More than 1,200 students took part in the library's after-school homework tutoring program.
"Come down to the library any afternoon and stop in our homework center, and I think you'll see the library is used even more than before and in ways that were never conceived when it was built," Reinhart said.
If voters approve the increase, Hayward's sales tax would be 9.5 percent, the same as Union City's. San Leandro has a 9.25 percent sales tax.
The City Council would not be legally bound to spend the sales tax money on projects and services listed on the ballot, but the outgoing mayor said he fully expected that it would.
"The council has a good record of living up to its promises to the community," Sweeney said.
Contact Rebecca Parr at 510-293-2473. Follow her at Twitter.com/rdparr1.