SAN JOSE -- City leaders Tuesday moved toward putting a library parcel tax extension before voters some time next year but remained skeptical about a general San Jose sales tax and a bond measure for road improvements.
The City Council voted unanimously to draft the library measure that could go before voters in either June or November 2014. A final council vote on the initiative is expected in February.
The library tax cost the average homeowner $25 annually when it was approved in 2004 and has since increased with inflation. It produces $7.9 million annually, about one-quarter of the library budget. But the tax expires in mid-2015 and is considered a pivotal part of keeping library hours intact.
"I think we really don't have a choice here," Vice Mayor Madison Nguyen said of renewing the tax.
City polling from November suggested 66 percent of about 800 likely San Jose voters might approve the measure -- right at the two-thirds threshold needed to pass a parcel tax. But council members expected supporters to organize and run a campaign that would not face significant opposition given the libraries' popularity.
The discussion comes as the city has had to cut library hours to balance budgets, which has corresponded with a big dip in library use.
At San Jose libraries four years ago, 8.1 million visitors checked out 15.4 million items. But in the past year, just 5.8 million library patrons checked out 10.7 million items.
During that same span, the number of hours that San Jose libraries were open dropped from 931 to 814 per week.
The latest polling also suggested 61 percent of voters might approve a quarter-cent sales tax while 54 percent would pass a half-cent sales tax increase. Those efforts would need only majority support at the ballot and would fund key services like police and fire departments.
But most council members thought the sales tax measures would draw more opposition and noted no support group has formed to organize a campaign. Polling also showed that competing tax measures would likely cause each of the initiatives to fail. Given the choice of passing just one, they chose the library measure.
Lastly, a several-hundred-million-dollar bond measure that would fund street and other infrastructure repairs received only 52 percent approval in the poll. Given that the bond measure would require two-thirds approval to pass, pollsters and council members declared the idea all but dead for now.
Contact Mike Rosenberg at 408-920-5705. Follow him at twitter.com/RosenbergMerc.