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Council hopefuls on different pages about privatization of Manteca Library

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POSTED October 15, 2010 2:44 a.m.
Carlon Perry set himself apart from the pack on possible privatization of the Manteca Library by saying it should be given serious consideration.

The other six candidates at Wednesday’s San Joaquin County League of Women Voters forum conducted at the civic center generally opposed privatization in principle although several said it should be studied but added they weren’t in favor of having the private sector run the system.

Perry was one of four mayoral candidates attending the candidate’s forum co-sponsored by the Manteca Bulletin. The others were Willie Weatherford, Ben Cantu and Debby Moorhead. There are four council hopefuls seeking two seats - incumbents John Harris and Vince Hernandez along with challengers Samuel Anderson and Richard Behling. Anderson was not in attendance Wednesday.

The privatization is being studied by the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors. The system is actually operated by the City of Stockton and serves the entire county except Lodi that has an independent library. Manteca provides the building, maintenance and utilities, plus contributes some money toward additional operating hours.

“I actually think we ought to look at privatization of the library,” Perry said.  “That doesn’t mean that we are going to do it.”  

Perry noted that it is the cost factor associated with the library decision that affects the San Joaquin County, the city of Stockton and for Manteca as well – all seeking to reduce costs wherever possible.

“I can tell you that the assistant city manager came back one year when I was mayor and said we ought to look at privatization of the library, bring up workers and have Borders operate a little deli there, sell books and provide library books and possibly have computers.   I think it’s something we ought to look at – we’re all concerned about how we are spending money,” Perry said.

He added that it needs to be evaluated and see how it will help financially or hurt the city financially if it were to be initiated out of the community’s library operation.

On the same topic Mayor Weatherford noted that the county is currently looking at the possibilities of privatizing the library system throughout the county including Manteca.  

“I think that we need to wait and see what their research discloses, however I am personally against privatizing,” he said, adding that when a city privatizes it loses some control.

Weatherford said he leans more toward making the local library uniquely the Manteca Library independent of  the county system and use the city’s share of the property tax collected specifically for libraries.

He said that currently the monies are collected through the county, putting all the regional libraries in a pool with the funding distributed to the city of Stockton and Manteca gets what’s left.  

“Recognizing how valuable the library is to our community, we have actually bought an additional eight hours – our library is actually open more than other libraries in the system,” the mayor said.

“People who have privatized in the past whether it is water, garbage or whatever – companies come in and they lowball the system – the city or the government changes and three years later you are locked into a contract, costs go up and you can’t get out of it,” Weatherford said.

Moorhead pointed out that the county is in charge of making the library decision.  

“However, I want the state-of-the-art library.  Our libraries are moving into down loading books and we have more readers now.  When I walk into a library, I like the smell of books.  For me I want to see more computers in the library because the library is for the people who can’t afford to have a computer in their home,” she said.  “This way their kids can go there and have access.”

Moorhead said she doesn’t believe in having a private party come in and run Manteca’s library.  “I want our library to be our library, and even though it is run from Stockton and paid for by the county and some by the city of Manteca, it’s very important.

She said the majority of the phone calls she gets from citizens are about the library.

‘Public library is just that - public’
Hernandez said, “The public library is just that – it’s public.”

He said it should be available to all the community members who wish to access the library.   He and his own family members accessed the library once a week as his children were growing up.  

“Culture comes from the public library.  It brings a wealth of education to those who wish to access it whether it is through the computer systems that are there, the books you love to read.  You can even spend your days there enjoying different parts of the world you see through the library,” Hernandez said.

The council candidate said it needs to stay public, and the city needs to continue to support the library financially and keep those extra hours in our library – the most hours of any county library – and seek a solution through the library task force at the county level.

Behling said that he is from Livermore “where they have a magnificent old building” that they call the Carnegie Library.  He noted that many communities in the United States were given those buildings by Mr. Carnegie and his successors.  

He noted that libraries are often seen as being fundamental aspect of government, a tenet that he disagrees with in today’s world.  

“That said, I do believe [in order for] individuals can go beyond and get together with our neighbors and through city government fund a library.  I would agree that Manteca should have its own local control, local funding open libraries,” he said.  “I love libraries – I can remember when the ball park was at what is now library park .”

Harris – also speaking on the library issue – said his thoughts on privatization were formed long before he married his wife – a librarian in Alameda County.  

“Libraries have always been dear to my heart.  I love libraries – I can remember when the ball park was at what is now library park.  I would go to the ball game first and to the library afterwards,” Harris said.

He said for the last several years he has been serving on the Manteca Library Task Force and prior to that he was on the county library task force.  “What I have learned in that period of time I didn’t like.  We have a system where the county pays the city of Stockton to run all the libraries in the county except for Lodi.”

Harris said the county may force privatization down the city’s throat.

“If that occurs, I think it is time to take a look at establishing our own library – find out how much money it would cost to run the Manteca Library.  I understand the city of Stockton is not telling how much it costs to run the city of Manteca’s library.  Rather than privatization, cutting hours or whatever we should look at running our own library,” he said.

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