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Referenda Roundup 2005: Mixed Results, but Support Stays Strong

Whether library measures passed or failed in 2005, residents who supported their local facilities did so with passion. In the notable case of Salinas, California, voters resoundingly passed a referendum November 8 to restore funding to keep the city’s three libraries open full-time more than a year after the city council agreed to close them because of a massive budget deficit. Measure V, a half-cent sales-tax increase that will raise an estimated $11 million annually for city services, received 61% of the vote.

Buoyed by their success, the library’s Friends vowed to push even more. “The Friends will be calling for nothing less than a reinvention of the library, a fresh approach to its services and to the city’s attitudes toward the system,” Friends board member Lauren Cercone told the city council, according to the December 7 Monterey Herald. “We will not be content with minimal funding for bare-bones hours and services.”

But local issues can also bring out the darker side of voters, especially those with strong feelings about a library ballot measure that has been defeated. An anonymous Wilmington, Massachusetts, resident—disappointed that a proposal for an $8.2-million addition to the Wilbraham Public Library didn’t draw the two-thirds majority it needed to pass—expressed frustration over the contentious issue by sending cards reading “Congrats! You’re an [expletive]” to four of the town’s selectmen. However, as one of the selectmen pointed out, it was residents who decided the outcome at a special town meeting November 29, where the final vote was 360–261, the Lowell Sun reported November 30.

In other communities throughout the United States, more library measures passed than failed, with several decisions ultimately made by just a few votes either way. In an extremely close vote, a 1-mill levy for the Canal Fulton (Ohio) Public Library was first reported as passed, then as rejected, and then as passed again by a margin of five votes. After a recount December 8, the levy passed by eight votes.

Persistence paid off for some communities, while others that were defeated vowed not to give up. In Milan, Michigan, after a 0.5-mill request was defeated by just four votes in February, a smaller tax increase of 0.25 mills was approved 800–552 in November. And while a budget vote for the North Merrick (N.Y.) Library failed May 17 by just three votes, a revote in June passed by the same margin.

Although Skagit County, Washington, residents defeated a proposal to create a countywide rural library district for the third time in eight years, Sara Holahan—who led the Skagit Libraries for All campaign—promised they would try again. “It’s a pretty self-centered political climate,” she said in the April 29 Skagit Valley Herald. “People are willing to spend $3 per day for a fancy cup of coffee, but they’re not willing to pay 25 cents per day for public libraries, which is a common good.”

“For Skagit County to sit here without library access for all, it’s going to continue to be a problem,” Holahan noted. “I foresee there will be more campaigns.”

American Libraries’ state-by-state roundup of library referenda and other local ballot measures throughout the year is based on reports from state library agencies and online news sources.

ARIZONA. Residents of Yuma County approved by 54% a $53.7-million bond for the library system, which would pay to convert the current main library into a branch, construct a new 79,491-square-foot central facility, expand two existing branches, and build two new ones.

ARKANSAS. In July, Jacksonville voters passed a 1-mill property-tax increase to pay for a new library, while a 0.5% sales tax to build a new 16,000-square-foot library in Van Buren passed by 87 votes.

CALIFORNIA. While Salinas voters rallied for their city libraries by passing a referendum to restore funding, a few other systems in the state facing tough financial times didn’t fare as well. After San Anselmo voters said no to a municipal property tax that would have raised $1.6 million per year for fire, police, library, and park services, city officials ordered cutbacks in many areas, including the reduction of library hours by 15 from a total of 50 per week.

In San Bernardino, Measure S—the Library Relief Act, which would have increased taxes to raise $1.6 million more per year for eight years for the cash-strapped system—fell short of the two-thirds supermajority it needed to pass.

San Rafael residents, however, strongly backed another Measure S, which increases the existing 7.75% sales tax by half a percentage point and will be put toward what the city council termed preventing “extreme reductions to essential city services,” including libraries, fire and police protection, and street repairs.

In Contra Costa County, although 61% of voters approved Walnut Creek’s Measure R, the $21-million library bond for a new downtown facility fell short of the two-thirds it needed to pass. However, supporters—including the mayor—acknowledged that a majority of voters backed the project and promised to move ahead anyway, with the city likely seeking an $18-million state library grant next year.

School district propositions affecting libraries did well: Santa Cruz City Schools earned strong support from voters, with 77% of voters renewing Measure A to pay for high school librarians, teachers, and counselors, and 80% backing Measure B to cover librarians, teachers, counselors, and art and music programs in elementary and middle schools.

In San Mateo County, voters passed two school measures that include improvements for school libraries: a $468-million bond measure for the San Mateo Community College District and a seven-year parcel tax that will raise $200,000 per year for the La Honda–Pescadero School District.

In Alameda County, nearly 68% of residents backed Measure A, a seven-year parcel tax for the Albany Unified School District. A portion of the tax will go toward hiring librarians. Voters also approved Measure B for the Castro Valley Unified School District, a bond proposal to raise $44 million for new classrooms and renovations, including improved libraries for all schools and a new library for Redwood High School.

Earlier in the year, in a special mail-only ballot, Santa Clara County residents supported one library measure but voted down an additional $12 tax. Measure A, a 10-year extension of the library parcel tax, passed with 72% approval, while Measure B, which would have gone toward materials, services, and keeping libraries from closing two days a week, drew the support of 64% of voters and narrowly missed the two-thirds supermajority required. While the cost of the election—originally projected at $1.8 million, but which ended up costing less than $700,000—became a campaign issue, library officials didn’t blame the high estimate for the failed measure.

In March, El Dorado County voters in two of three towns passed ballot measures for a $15 annual parcel tax renewing branch library funding. South Lake Tahoe residents easily passed Measure F with 81% approval, and Georgetown voters approved Measure G almost as strongly, with 80%. However, a measure supporting the Placerville and Pollock Pines libraries was defeated twice—by just 14 votes in the March election and again by a greater margin in November. South Pasadena Library’s Measure L far exceeded the two-thirds requirement, with more than 83% of voters backing the extension of an existing special tax for another six years.

COLORADO. In a closely watched vote, 52% of residents approved Referendum C, which suspends a provision of the state Taxpayers Bill of Rights (TABOR) to let the state keep an estimated $3.7 billion that would otherwise be returned to taxpayers over the next five years. The money, an average of $491 per taxpayer over five years, will go toward roads, schools, health care, and pensions; although not explicitly named as a beneficiary, libraries could be in line to recover some funds.

Six of nine local initiatives passed—several by large margins—including the 10-year extension of an existing 0.25-cent sales tax for technology improvements at the Fort Collins Public Library as well as other municipal projects, which was approved by 72% of voters; and a decision by 71% of residents to exempt the Nederland Community Library District from TABOR limits. Voters also backed a 1-mill increase for operations and an $11.4-million bond for building expansion of the East Routt Library District, as well as a tax increase to 2.5 mills for a new facility in the Mancos Library District.

Residents of Erie voted to join the Weld Library District, paving the way for a new building and library services, while Dacono voters rejected joining the same district. Other losses occurred for the Montrose Regional Library District, where residents voted down a tax for a new building, and for the Rangeview Library District in Thornton, which lost a 3.494-mill rate for operation and expanded facilities.

Ignacio-area voters passed a tax increase for the library, while a bond initiative for a new building that appeared to have lost by just one vote ultimately passed after eight ballots were found stuck in a mail drop and a recount was done.

CONNECTICUT. Guilford voters rejected by 2,280–1,819 an April 26 referendum for a $10.35-million library expansion. Residents in Led-yard defeated a plan to expand the Bill Library with a $4.5-million addition, although taxpayers indicated in an advisory question that they would support a scaled-down version.

FLORIDA. With a 95.9% approval, voters overwhelmingly okayed the creation of the Sanibel Public Library District, an independent special district in Lee County.

GEORGIA. Voters approved by 65.7% a special-purpose, local-option sales tax (SPLOST) that included $14.7 million for construction of a new headquarters library for the Augusta–Richmond County Library System. In DeKalb County, residents passed a $230-million bond referendum, of which $54.5 million will go to the library for 13 proposed projects: three new branches, four expansions, five replacement buildings, and an upgrade of one branch to improve visibility and vehicular access.

Candler County residents overwhelmingly approved continuing the county’s one-cent SPLOST for six more years, which is expected to generate more than $7 million. Proceeds will be divided among the county and the cities of Metter and Pulaski, and will go toward library renovations along with several other improvements.

Earlier this year, the Mary Willis Library in Washington, headquarters of the Bartram Trail Regional Library System, received $32,517 in a Wilkes County SPLOST referendum. The city agreed to match this amount for a new roof for the library.

IDAHO. In February, a supermajority of voters passed a $3-million bond for a new public library in Coeur d’Alene, and Idaho City residents approved a $750,000 bond for the Boise Basin District Library. Emmett Public Library tried again to establish a library district and failed.

South Bannock Library District passed two measures in May: Voters doubled the district’s levy for annual library operations and said yes to a $100,941 physical plant levy to be used for a new bookmobile. Kootenai-Shoshone Area Libraries won a $3.4-million bond in August to remodel buildings in six locations. In Valley County, a district formation failed by one vote in November.

ILLINOIS. Support for ballot measures in the state was split, with slightly fewer than half passing. A measure supporting a new library for the Glenwood-Lynwood Public Library District was approved by 59% of voters in April. Voters in the Oswego Public Library District rejected a referendum for improvements to the downtown library as well as construction of a new branch, and Huntley residents said no to tax money for a 67,000-square-foot library expansion.

Two libraries approved expanding their boundaries: Lawrence County voters agreed to annex Bond, Bridgeport, Denison, and Russell townships into the library district after residents there voted to join, while voters in the New Lenox Public Library district agreed to annex a portion of unincorporated Joliet that was not already served by a public library.

Other referenda passed in Johnston City, Markham, Clayton, Eldorado, Elkville, Northlake, and Royalton, as well as for the Winnetka-Northfield Public Library District.

Failed library measures were recorded in Altamont, Bensenville, Carol Stream, Coffeen, Crete, Earlville, Lanark, Lemont, and Sugar Grove, and for the Carrier Mills–Stonefort Public Library District and the Illinois Prairie District Public Library.

IOWA. Dumont voters defeated a library property-tax levy 65–55, while some 67% of voters approved a tax levy supporting the Hampton Public Library. In Letts, Public Measure A, a ballot initiative that would have increased property taxes to help fund the library’s technology and computer costs, was defeated in a tie vote of 37–37. Mondamin voters similarly rejected a levy for library operations by a vote of 30–28.

In University Heights—which does not have a library of its own—voters overwhelmingly passed a 27-cent levy to raise money for the city to pay for residents to use area libraries, after neighboring libraries in Coralville and Iowa City decided to stop selling individual cards to out-of-towners.

Earlier in the year, an overwhelming 92% of voters approved a referendum to cover $3 million of an $8-million expansion of the Coralville Public Library. By a 3–1 margin, Fort Madison residents passed a $1.4-million bond issue to complete a $2.5-million project consolidating two existing libraries into a new state-of-the-art facility. And 80% of Hull voters passed a $700,000 bond issue to match a $400,000 Vision Iowa grant for a new 8,000-square-foot library.

KANSAS. A sales tax earmarked to build a new library in Andover was approved by 64% of voters. Residents of Eureka passed a one-cent sales tax for 20 years, part of which will go toward an addition to the public library.

LOUISIANA. Three millages were decided in a January ballot: The West Baton Rouge Parish Library’s 4.1-mill operations and maintenance renewal for $800,000 for 10 years passed easily, as did a 6.2-mill proposition for the Avoyelles Parish Library. A proposed 6.5-mill tax for the Vermilion Parish Library—an increase over the library’s existing funding—was overwhelmingly defeated by 85% of the voters; however, in July, 69% backed continuing the existing 4.36 mills. Also in July, 83% of voters approved the Iberville Parish Library’s 4 mills. In October, voters approved the East Baton Rouge Parish Library’s 10-year dedicated property tax at 11.1 mills, which will support maintenance, operations, and construction for the system. In November, St. John the Baptist Parish Library easily won a renewal of a 10-mill tax.

MAINE. After Monmouth’s Board of Selectmen decided to no longer fund the North Monmouth Free Library—the smaller of two libraries in the area—the question was put to voters in June: Sixty-six percent of residents rejected spending $6,125 on the North Monmouth Free Library, while 52% supported funding for the larger Cumston Public Library. In York, voters approved $302,000 for the library to maintain operations, along with an additional $58,000 for an additional day of service each week.

MASSACHUSETTS. After Amesbury residents sued the municipal council for approving a $3.6-million bond to cover part of a library renovation without putting the issue before voters, the question was placed on the ballot in May. Residents overwhelmingly rejected the plan.

Acushnet voters rejected a debt exclusion item for a $1.8-million construction grant for the Russell Memorial Library December 19. In Bolton, a 10,000-square-foot library expansion failed to get the two-thirds majority support necessary at a November 14 special town meeting. A new building for the Boxford Town Library was defeated in two separate votes: Residents overwhelmingly vetoed a proposal to spend $700,000 on the first phase of the project November 1; at a special town meeting two weeks later, they rejected spending $50,000 in architectural fees.

In what was expected to be a close election after a similar measure failed in the spring, voters in Mattapoisett soundly backed a new library, approving $1.4 million toward the project. Medway voters approved $284,726 for a library but rejected a motion that would have used $80,000 in stabilization money to fully fund it.

The 114-year-old Hampden Free Public Library closed its doors June 30 after voters failed to approve an override that would have included $108,000 to keep it open another year. In Milford, residents gave the go-ahead to a $1.4-million renovation for its 20-year-old library. A library construction project in Millis was also passed by voters in May, and Milton voters agreed to increased property taxes for a library renovation and expansion. By a margin of 3 to 1, Palmer voters rejected an 18-year debt exclusion for the town’s $2.7-million cost of a $5.9-million library project. Wilmington residents rejected an $8.2-million addition to the Wilbraham Public Library at a special town meeting November 29. As a result, the town was no longer eligible to accept a $2.6-million grant from the state board of library commissioners. Although the state said it would consider giving a six-month extension to approve funding for the project, trustees felt that the time was not right to pursue the project and voted in January 2006 to forfeit the grant.

In other votes throughout the year, library measures passed in North Brookfield, Buckland, Duxbury, Wales, Westminster, and Weston, but were defeated in Douglas and Wellesley; a second Millis proposal also lost in September. In Framingham, authorization to borrow $675,000 to buy land for a library branch was passed, while three measures—in January, March, and June—seeking authorization to borrow money for its construction were rejected.

MICHIGAN. In November elections, residents of Chase Township rejected by a vote of 58–52 a measure for additional operational funds, while some 52% of voters backed a new $7.84-million building for the Dexter District Library, as well as a separate 0.7-mill levy for six years to operate the building. After a 0.5-mill request for the Milan Public Library was defeated by just four votes in February, a smaller tax increase of 0.25 mills was approved in November.

Caledonia Township voted down a millage request August 2 to build a new $4.25-million, 19,000-square-foot library.

In May, voters soundly rejected two 20-year tax increases that would have funded the construction and operation of a new $7.8-million facility for the Ionia Community Library.

Renewal of an operating millage for the Portage Lake District Library drew overwhelming support from residents of Houghton, Portage Township, and Chassell Township. Although the final count was closer than when the same issue came up six months earlier in November 2004, a tax levy of a half-mill for six years for the Saugatuck-Douglas District Library failed again.

Worth Township and Lexington voters twice rejected a 0.6-mill tax proposal, which would have tripled the Moore District Library’s annual budget. Since no tax was approved by 2006, officials say, funding responsibility for the library—which was classified as a district in 2004—reverted solely to Lexington. In February, a new 18,000-square-foot facility for the Otsego District Public Library lost out when voters rejected a millage proposal by a vote of 1,700–784.

MISSOURI. In April, Moberly voters passed the first tax levy increase since 1992, approving a boost of eight cents for the Little Dixie Regional Libraries.

NEW MEXICO. A new building for the Alamogordo Public Library was defeated March 15 when 61% of voters rejected a $6-million bond.

NEW YORK. Although early results showed the defeat of a November proposal for expanding the Crandall Public Library in Glens Falls, the outcome was reversed just a day later after a recount showed the $13.6-million plan had passed. Elections Commissioner Mary Beth Casey said the error was caused by officials who were typing vote counts inaccurately into a computer program. Chemung County residents approved a referendum to create a new library district for the Steele Memorial Library and four other libraries by transferring $1.6 million from the county budget. By a vote of 935–807, Geneva citizens approved changing their public library from an association to a school district library, which means that its funding will come from residents of the same communities as the school district. The Lyons Public Library, which lost a $2.5-million bond in 2004, easily won a $1.5-million for relocation and expansion of its building.

In other November elections, voters approved a budget of $58,000 for the Germantown Library, a $51,000 increase over the usual contribution from the town. A proposition to raise annual funding for the Nassau Free Library from $20,000 to $79,000 failed by just 25 votes. The Poughkeepsie Public Library District’s $3.92-million budget, an 8% increase, was approved, as was nearly $697,000 in capital funds for new and renovated buildings. A joint vote to increase the budget of the Kinderhook Memorial Library by $38,478 and that of Valatie Free Library by $21,524 passed. Voters in Milton said no to a proposal that would have provided $15,000 for computer upgrades at the Sarah Hull Hallock Free Library. Mount Kisco residents approved a measure authorizing the village to borrow $8 million over 20 years for a new library, while Peekskill voters agreed to boost the Field Library’s budget by $25,000.

Voters in Jamestown rejected a special tax to support the James Prendergast Library September 20. In June, Gloversville residents backed a $200,000 tax levy for the library by a margin of just 42 votes, and a plan to expand the Newark Public Library’s tax base failed by 30 votes. While a budget proposal for the North Merrick Library failed May 17 by just three votes, a revote in June narrowly passed by the same margin.

In the Mid-Hudson Library System, budget decisions included the passage of a $200,000 tax appropriation and a $10,000 technology appropriation for the Town of Esopus Library; approval of a plan to borrow $1 million for capital improvements to the Kingston Library, along with a $425,148 tax appropriation; a failed budget vote for the Mahopac Library; and an increase of 7.9% plus passage of a proposal to raise $50,000 a year for six years for the Marlboro Free Library.

A month earlier, voters in Greenburgh gave a green light to a library expansion and renovation by passing a $19.9-million referendum; a $4.3-million budget for the Haverstraw King’s Daughters Public Library, which would raise taxes by 4.1%, was also approved.

OHIO. Nearly 52% of Barberton voters approved Issue 89, a five-year, 1.37-mill operating levy for the library, but a similar five-year, 1.3-mill operating levy for the Cuyahoga Falls Library failed. A recount found that a 1-mill levy for the Canal Fulton Public Library ultimately prevailed—after it was reported as passed, then rejected, and then as passed again.

In Oberlin, 65% of voters backed a tax levy to secure $3.25 million for the library. The Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County will receive nearly $3.8 million a year, thanks to passage of a five-year, 1-mill levy. Voters backed a 1-mill, five-year additional levy for the Stow–Munroe Falls Public Library. A 1-mill additional continuing levy for the Warren–Trumbull County Public Library, which would have restored the materials budget and funded computer upgrades, a new bookmobile, and restoration of Sunday hours, lost by 1,775 votes.

Wayne County’s 0.25-mill, 20-year bond, which will raise $6 million of $10 million for a new library, passed, and 58% of voters in Worthington passed a 2.6-mill operating levy.

PENNSYLVANIA. In Elk County, a measure on whether to establish an annual 1-mill tax to establish, maintain, or aid in maintaining a local library or contracting with any existing local library for the residents of Jones Township was defeated by just four votes. An annual tax of 0.7 mills for public libraries in Jefferson County was also rejected, and voters in the Northampton Area School District defeated a tax of 0.75 mills for the support and maintenance of the Northampton Area Public Library.

In spring elections, Fountain Hill Borough residents strongly backed a measure to continue financial support to the Bethlehem Area Public Library through a 1-mill tax so that Fountain Hill residents can maintain library privileges. Voters defeated a 0.25-mill tax to support and maintain public libraries within Lancaster County.

Residents of Newtown and Wrightstown okayed a referendum to allow the Village Library of Wrightstown to use drawings and raffles as sources of revenue. “I think it’s great,” said trustee Ken Hone. “It gives us the opportunity to make up for a shortfall of state money that we’ve needed since we’ve increased our services and hours.”

TEXAS. Bedford residents demanding a property-tax rollback won by 10 votes in a March 5 election, resulting in sharp cuts to city services and a loss of $2.6 million from the library’s $24.8-million budget. The library closed temporarily but after negotiations with city officials and a gift of $300,000 from an anonymous donor, began operating on a bare-bones budget with 20 hours of service; the library is now open 40 hours per week, down from 55 hours.

A $1.5-million bond proposition for improvements to the Hurst Public Library passed overwhelmingly by nearly 72% of voters, while 71% of Wylie voters backed $8.1 million in bonds for construction of a new facility for the Rita and Truett Smith Public Library. A ballot measure to create a North Fayette County Library District, which would have increased sales and use tax by 0.5%, failed.

In February, Denton residents approved a $42.2-million capital-improvement bond, which included $2.1 million for improvements to the South Branch Library.

UTAH. Ephraim voters strongly backed a $750,000 bond to restore the current library building.

VERMONT. By a 24-vote margin, Addison voters said no to a $1.3-million project to upgrade and repair Addison Central School, which would have added the school’s first real library.

VIRGINIA. Spotsylvania residents okayed borrowing up to $10.4 million for an addition to the Salem Church branch of the Rappahannock Regional Library.

WASHINGTON. In Clark County, a proposal to create and fund a capital facility district for the Fort Vancouver Regional Library passed easily. However, a second measure to approve $44 million in bonds for branch improvements—which required a 60% supermajority—just missed with slightly more than 59% approval. Proposition #2 may be submitted by itself one more time to the voters, but if it should fail both propositions would have to be presented again.

Elsewhere in the state, voters approved creating a library district for Columbia County and St. John residents passed a bond for a new building. Conconully voters turned down a chance to be annexed into the North Central Regional Library. And Skagit County residents defeated a proposal to create a countywide rural library district, with 54% of voters rejecting the idea.

WEST VIRGINIA. The two public libraries in Hampshire County—Hampshire County Public Library and Capon Bridge Public Library—received a large increase, from $82,000 to $120,000 in a local levy passed by 80%.

Fayette County Public Library won a 50% increase from $205,000 to $310,000.

—Amy Stone

  


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