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Libraries plan for uses for tax money

Expanded services and hours could come from June's voter-approved $49 tax.

Despite overwhelming support at the ballot box in June, libraries in both San Anselmo and Fairfax will have to wait before reaping the rewards of tax measures touted as saviors.

While San Anselmo seeks to fill a top administrative spot before mapping out plans for the program-saving lifeline, Fairfax must wait its turn within the county system to consider changes, including a new way to engage patrons.

As funding avenues dried up amid the tough economy, library systems in San Anselmo and Marin County, which includes Fairfax among its 10-branches, turned to voters with separate $49 annual parcel tax measures on the June 8 ballot to buck up services. Library supporters turned out in droves as each measure sailed past the two-thirds majority with 87 percent and 86 percent approval, respectively. Both taxes have a five-year lifespan.

Gail Wiemann, branch manager at Fairfax, said their new tax was more about maintaining the status quo than adding new bells and whistles.

"The major thrust of the ballot measure was to maintain our services to prevent them from being cut," she said. "People shouldn't be looking at new things. The point of it was to keep what we had."

Wiemann said had the tax not been approved, all county library branches would have stopped Sunday service, reduced opening hours and had their budgets for books, DVDs and other materials slashed.

The Fairfax library employees five full-time staffers and five part-timers, according to Wiemann.

She said though the majority of tax money benefits direct service efforts such as maintained library hours, some would go to minor maintenance projects for their branch.

"Most buildings (in the county system) were built in the 70s," said Wiemann, who has been at the Fairfax branch for nine years. "We will be able to do work now."

She described the maintenance as small things such as emergency lights in the bathroom.

 "It is little things people won't notice, but will make the building safer and last longer."

As for other changes, Wiemann said architects will be doing a walk-through in coming weeks to provide suggestions for a long-range plan. She said an idea that came out of similar talks some years back was an entrance remodel to usher in a philosophical shift for the library.

"There's been talk of changing what you see when you come into the building by reducing the size of the big desk at the front," she said, noting more emphasis would be put on displaying materials people want to find directly.

"We want to get workers out from behind the desk, so people don't have to come to the desk and ask a question," Wiemann said. "We want to be more active and wandering around. To a lot of people that's a big deal. We're trying to break down barriers."

Though people might find it hard to swallow more taxes for minor maintenance and little change, Wiemann said residents should be pleased to know the new tax does take into consideration cost of living increases, something she said the original parcel tax didn't.

San Anselmo has what many consider to be the poorest public library in the county. The department cut its children's library, children's services and programs in recent years, only to see its budget slashed by a third four years ago.

Town Manager Debbie Stutsman said tax revenue would be spent on expanded hours for children services and general enhancements, but the details and overall plan would rest with the to-be-hired head librarian.

Sara Loyster retired from that position this month after 13 years at San Anselmo. Renee Hayes is serving as interim town librarian, but Stutsman said the recruitment process was underway for a permanent replacement.

"We do want that person to be the one who figures out how best to carry out the wishes of the voters," she said.

She said no expenditures had been planned as part of the current proposed budget.

"We need a plan for putting those expenditures into play," Stutsman said.

Maureen Durnell, library technician, said she hoped funding would allow the library to be open seven days a week. The library is now open five days a week.

The self-described "newbie" on the library's three-person staff with 12 years of service, Durnell said not much could be done with so few people at the moment, "but we're hopeful."

Stutsman said such decisions and other expenditure options would be worked out by the incoming librarian and brought before the town council for approval.

Applications for the open position were being accepted through Aug. 4 and Stutsman hoped to have a new librarian in place by early September.

She said waiting until the librarian was in place was an effort to take things carefully and deliberately with this opportunity given to the town.

"We want to respect the wishes of the voters and spend in the way it was intended."

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