Referenda Roundup 2018

How states performed on library measures

November 8, 2018

During the 2018 election year, American Libraries, in partnership with the Public Library Association, tracked 146 library referenda across 33 states, of which a generous selection appears here and in the January/February 2019 issue. Nearly 80% of those referenda passed in the library’s favor. Among those are two statewide wins: In Maine, voters approved a $15 million bond to upgrade facilities including library services at its community colleges, while in New Mexico, voters authorized the state to sell and issue nearly $12.9 million in general obligation bonds for several types of libraries. The biggest winner in terms of referenda passed was Michigan, with more than 30 measures approved.

It’s worth noting that several of this year’s losses came about via a narrow margin. In Bayfield, Colorado, for example, a proposal to increase the Pine River Public Library District’s mill levy from 2.5 to 4.5 mills failed by just 10 votes. And it took just 113 votes to defeat a tax rate increase that would have yielded an estimated $687,767 for Vineland (N.J.) Public Library.

Update: This article was revised on November 15, 19, 21, and December 5.


In the Glendale Elementary School District, voters passed by 51.9% a $35 million bond that will go toward upgrading school buildings. They also renewed by 53.4% a $9.6 million maintenance and operation budget override that will fund school library services as well as other programs, adding $3.33 per $100 of assessed property value. The two measures will fill a capital improvement funding gap that has resulted in nine consecutive years of reduced state funding to schools, according to Assistant School Superintendent Mike Barragan.

In Phoenix, three school districts gained funding that will go in part to school libraries: The Laveen Elementary School District saw the successful renewal of a $3.8 million district assistance budget-limit override to be used for library books, textbooks, and classroom technology, and to fund school construction and renovation. The Osborn Elementary School District renewed, by 57%, its $2.4 million maintenance and operations override, which will help fund library services as well as other programs. Voters also renewed the Wilson Elementary School District’s $495,000 override to help fund library software, library books, educational technology, and other items.


The Rogers City Council decreased property taxes by 0.5 mill by removing 1 mill devoted to police and fire pensions and increasing the general millage by 0.5 mill. That makes the city’s millage rate 3.3 mills, which includes 0.9 mills for Rogers Public Library.


In Campbell, voters passed Measure O by 68%; the measure authorizes the city to issue up to $50 million in bonds at an estimated tax rate of $19 per $100,000 in assessed value. The funds will go in part toward modernizing the public library and making it seismically safe.

Oakland voters passed Measure D in June with a yes vote of 75.9%. The measure imposes a $75 parcel tax that will provide the city’s libraries with $10 million annually for the next 20 years.


By just a 10-vote difference—2,369 to 2,359—Bayfield voters opted not to increase Pine River Public Library District’s mill levy from 2.5 to 4.5 mills. The board has been using the district’s reserve fund to balance the budget for the past three years.

Clearview Library District Ballot Issue 6C, which would have provided $23 million to replace the current Windsor-Severance Library with a new, 38,000-square-foot facility, was rejected by voters 64.4% to 35.6%.

A proposed 3.25-mill levy increase aimed at including the city of Dacono in the High Plains Library District failed, with 55% of 1,152 voters opposed. Dacono Public Library has been closed since early 2017.

By an affirmative vote of 73%, Fremont County voters passed a statute authorizing the county to provide high-speed internet, telecommunication, and/or cable television services to libraries, residents, businesses, schools, nonprofits, and other users. The same statute passed, by the same percentage, in the city of Florence, while Cañon City voters passed it by 83%.

Voters in Garfield County approved Ballot Question 6A, which will allow the county’s library district to keep all tax revenue it collects. The measure passed by 73%.

In Moffat County, Referred Ballot Measure 1A failed, gaining only 44% of the vote. The 2.85-mill levy proposed by the measure would have generated an estimated $1.2 million annually, divided between Moffat County Libraries and the Museum of Northwest Colorado in Craig. The county’s draft 2019 budget has reduced library funding to about $100,000 and defunds the museum entirely.


In Coventry, a referendum to approve the appropriation of $4.9 million for renovations and a new addition to the Booth and Dimock Memorial Library failed.

Glastonbury appropriated $6.5 million to renovate and expand the Welles Turner Memorial Library. The expansion will include a 536-square-foot addition to the children’s area and a 3,210-square-foot addition to the west of the current building. It will establish a dedicated makerspace, reconfigure and expand the teen area, and reallocate existing space to create a computer center and operating efficiencies. Voters approved the measure 8,686 to 8,575.

New Milford voters approved by a vote of 7,780 to 3,290 to expand the New Milford Public Library from 15,000 to 22,000 square feet. The plan will also see the addition of meeting space, the relocation of the children’s and young adult sections, and compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.


Pasco County voted 66.7% to pass an $18.6 million bond to fund the remodeling and upgrading of the county’s seven library branches.


Forsyth County approved by 64.7% the implementation of a special purpose 1% sales and use tax in order to raise approximately $274 million that would benefit the public library system as well as roads, parks, public safety, water, and other services.


Voters in the Wilder Public Library District narrowly turned down a levy in May that, if passed, would have increased property taxes by $15.12 per $100,000 of taxable property value in order to fund the remodeling of the library (a former fire station). The levy needed 55% or more of the vote to pass, but fell just shy of that. It is the third time in two years that the levy has failed.


Batavia voters narrowly approved a 7-cent tax rate increase for library operations, by a vote of just 6,055 to 6,007. The tax rate of 44 cents per $100 of assessed valuation will remain the same, however—an equivalent tax on building construction bonds that residents have been paying for the past 20 years will be eliminated when that debt is retired in December.

A millage increase in Dorr Township failed in August. If approved, the millage would have jumped to 0.8 mills from 0.3 mills, with the additional funds going toward more materials, increased hours, updated technology, and upgraded facilities at Dorr Township Library.

In March, Harvard voters opted to shuffle tax dollars in order to improve city parks and to avoid service cuts to Harvard Diggins Library. About $100 from each homeowner’s property taxes is currently devoted to paying off debt for the city swimming pool; once that debt is paid off in 2019, the city will divert that money to the parks and library instead. The vote passed by about 53% to 47%.

Voters in Cook County’s Maine Township approved, 61% to 39%, the issuance of $195 million in bonds for more than 50 projects across School District 207, among them classroom upgrades and library improvements.

Grundy and Kendall Counties saw the passing of a proposition to issue $10,300 in school building bonds for the improvement of the Saratoga School Building in Morris. Those improvements will include the construction of a learning resource center. The proposition passed by a vote of 1,786 to 630.

In Oak Park, voters said yes to a nonbinding referendum to consider the merger and consolidation of Oak Park taxing bodies including but not limited to the Village of Oak Park, Oak Park Township, Oak Park Public Library, and the Park District of Oak Park.

Potomac-area voters approved in March the establishment of a taxing district and a levy of 15 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, generating $30,000 annually for  Potomac Public Library. The measure passed 202 to 98.

In Rochester, voters rejected 1,675 to 1,562 a $3.2 million bond that would have allowed for the expansion and renovation of Rochester Public Library.

A March property tax referendum aimed at building a $4.9 million public library in South Beloit failed. The new facility would have been triple the size of the existing library building. The ballot measure failed by a vote of 530 to 481.

With a vote of 2,510 to 1,630, Western Springs passed a $2 million bond issue in March to renovate the interior of Thomas Ford Memorial Library, including the lobby and circulation areas; audiovisual collections; youth, teen, and tween areas; community room; and adult services desk.

In White Oak, a referendum to increase the library district’s operating tax rate to 21.5 cents per $100 of assessed value from 18.54 cents failed, with 60.18% voting against it. This is the fifth time since March 2016 that this proposed rate increase has been defeated. The funding would have allowed the library to create a digital media lab and expand services to older residents.


In DeWitt, a $3.5 million bond referendum passed in August by a vote of 647 to 139. The money will partially fund the expansion of the Frances Banta Waggoner Community Library from 7,500 square feet to 21,000 square feet.


Calcasieu Parish voters approved, by 64%, the renewal of a 10-year, 6-mill plan to fund the 13 branches of the parish library system. The tax supplies 96% of the library’s funding and will bring in approximately $12.8 million annually.

A 1.61-mill property tax renewal aimed at maintaining and improving the public libraries of Lafayette Parish failed in April by a vote of 5,746 to 6,392.


Statewide, voters approved a $15 million bond to upgrade facilities at all seven of Maine’s community colleges. Those facilities include “information technology infrastructure” and “instructional and library services.”

Falmouth saw the passing of a $500,000 supplemental bond to support the expansion and renovation of Falmouth Memorial Library. The voting results were 4,295 for, 3,108 against.

In Rockport, voters approved borrowing $1.5 million to help fund the construction of a new library in Rockport Village, with 1,067 voting for the measure and 922 against. A bridge loan to fund the construction as other donations materialize was also approved.


Baltimore passed an ordinance authorizing the city’s mayor and city council to borrow up to $65 million for recreational space and public buildings, including Enoch Pratt Free Library. The ordinance passed with a vote of 87.3% for and 12.7% against.

An ordinance allowing Prince George’s County to borrow money and issue bonds in an amount not exceeding $16.8 million for projects within its library system passed with an affirmative vote of 85.3%.


Douglas voters passed in May, by a vote of 1,331 to 1,319, a $1.5 million property tax override to fund town operations and keep the Simon Fairfield Public Library open. Previous overrides had failed in 2013 and 2016.


In Ann Arbor, Proposition A passed with 53% support (26,746 to 23,618). The proposition amends the city charter to require that all city-owned land on a particular downtown block remain under public ownership in perpetuity and be developed as an urban park and civic center commons. The block is adjacent to the downtown branch of Ann Arbor District Library and includes the surface of the city’s underground parking garage, known as the “Library Lot,” and Liberty Plaza, a sunken concrete park. The city’s alternative plan, favored by the mayor, was to sell the Library Lot to a Chicago developer to build a residential high-rise. Ann Arbor library trustee Linh Song had opposed the measure, saying that the University of Michigan’s Diag, in the middle of campus, serves as adequate open space and that the library already exists as the city’s civic commons.

Fifty-seven percent of Bedford Township voters supported a 0.25-mill, five-year levy to improve the Bedford branch library building and resolve several safety and liability issues there.

Voters approved by 68% a measure to renew a 0.35-mill, five-year levy for Betsie Valley District Library in Thompsonville.

The Dowagiac District Library won a new 1-mill, 20-year building bond, approved by 53% of residents.

Fruitport approved a 10-year levy of 0.75 mills on all property in the township to fund district library operations. The millage, passed by 60% of eligible voters, replaces an existing tax that ends in December. A similar levy narrowly failed August 7 in the primary election.

To support the operation of the Galien Township Library, 65% of voters passed a referendum to renew for six years an existing millage of 0.97 cents per $1,000 taxable valuation; they also passed a new millage of 0.02 cents per $1,000 taxable valuation.

A new 1-mill, 10-year operating/building bond library millage for the Rauchholz Memorial Library in Hemlock failed by a vote of 1,228 to 709.

In Ionia, a proposal to raise $6.5 million by levying 1.3 mills for 20 years was rejected by a vote of 3,113 to 2,358. If passed, the funds would have gone towards building a new 19,200-square-foot library. This is the third time in 14 years that the proposal has failed.

A new, 0.42-mill, 25-year building bond for the Lapeer District Library failed to pass, receiving only 45% of the vote.

Residents of Marquette County passed four millage proposals ranging from 0.91 mills to 0.27 mills in support of Peter White Public Library. A one-mill proposal to extend library services to Powell Township was defeated with only 42% of voters approving. Library Director Andrea Ingmire said the measures would allow her to “move forward in planning for a stable library future.”

Milan voters approved a 0.24-mill, seven-year levy to be used to operate, maintain, and equip Milan Public Library, as well as improve library services. The levy passed by 74%.

By a vote of 1,825 to 1,448, the St. Charles District Library was authorized to levy an additional millage (not to exceed 0.076 mill) in order to restore a rate authorized in 1990.

In Ypsilanti, voters passed a 12-year levy of 0.7 mills on all property in the library district, which includes Ypsilanti, Ypsilanti Township, and part of Superior Township. Sixty-seven percent voted yes, with 33% voting no. Part of the funding will go to building a new branch of Ypsilanti District Library in Superior Township.


By a vote of 2,115 to 1,317, Cambridge voters approved a 0.5% local sales tax to fund the construction of a new Cambridge Public Library and East Central Regional Library Headquarters, as well as the city’s street improvement program and outdoor park development. The tax will remain in effect through 2043.


Voters in Kansas City passed, with 83% in favor (63,274 to 12,588), an 8-cent increase in Kansas City Public Library’s property tax–based operating levy. The increase will provide an additional $2.8 million annually. Library Director Crosby Kemper III said the funding will allow the library to expand hours, modernize technology, and renovate or replace existing branches.


Epping voters approved in March $600,000 to expand the Harvey-Mitchell Library. This is the fourth time the expansion has been on the ballot, and it passed by a vote of 542 to 336.

A proposed $5.05 million library renovation project in Exeter failed in March. The project needed three-fifths of the vote to pass, but it received only 1,315 votes out of 2,623.

Gilmanton voters in March approved by a vote of 525 to 313 an expenditure of $47,000 for the Gilmanton Year-Round Library.

The Weeks Public Library in Greenland will be renovated and expanded as the result of a 467–278 vote in March to approve a $2.9 million bond. The library will expand by 9,000 square feet and be brought into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The Lee Public Library saw the approval in March of a proposal to renovate and expand it so that it has room to grow its collections and build a large space for meetings and programming.

In Wolfeboro, voters passed a referendum in March to renovate and expand the town library.


In Vineland, voters narrowly rejected a dedicated property tax rate increase from 3.3 cents per $100 of assessed property valuation to 5 cents. The results were 7,353 for, 7,466 against. If passed, the measure would have increased funding for Vineland Public Library by an estimated $687,767 annually. Advocates say the library could be forced to reduce hours, staff, and programs.


Statewide, voters approved the Public Libraries Bond, authorizing the state to sell and issue nearly $12.9 million in general obligation bonds for academic, public school, tribal, and public libraries to meet increasing demands for materials and electronic services. With 424,619 yes votes and 193,309 no votes, the bond passed with 68.7% in favor.

Bernalillo County voters approved a bond of $1.75 million, which will go toward purchasing materials for all branches of the Albuquerque Bernalillo County library system. The bond passed by a vote of 160,977 yes to 56,294 no, a 74.1% margin.

Sandoval County voters voted in favor of a bond that will provide nearly $3.4 million to 15 public and tribal libraries. The bond passed with 65.8% of the vote.


Voters in Amenia opted to increase the town’s annual contribution to the Amenia Free Library budget by $30,000, to a total of $125,000.

In Auburn, Seymour Public Library’s October referendum, which called for a 2019 budget of $1.13 million, passed unanimously with 106 votes, increasing the property tax levy from $796,000 to $812,000.

Voters in the town of Kinderhook opted to increase the operating budget of the Valatie Free Library by $9,150 and to increase the operating budget of the Kinderhook Memorial Library by $49,000. Meanwhile, the town of Stuyvesant voted to increase its share of the operating budget of the Kinderhook Memorial Library by $6,921.

A proposal to dissolve the Woodstock Public Library District failed, with 2,067 votes against it and 1,142 for it. Board President Dorothea Marcus says the vote allows the continuation of efforts to expand the library building.


Delaware County voters passed, by 64%, a renewed 15-year millage rate of 1.0, which will allow the Delaware County District Library to finish paying off the 25-year loan it had taken out to open its Orange Township branch. The renewed millage will also allow the library to begin planning a new branch in the Powell and Liberty Township area.

Fairfield County voters passed, by 21,231 to 14,990 (59% to 41%), a library levy costing homeowners $39 per $100,000 valuation.

A May levy in Hamilton County passed by a vote of 63% to 37%. The levy creates a tax to benefit the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County at a rate not exceeding 1 mill for each dollar of valuation. The money will fund branch renovations as well as books and reference materials.

The Muskingum County Library System saw the renewal and increase of a levy from 1 mill to 1.25 mills. The levy, which will allow the library system to maintain its operations, passed by a vote of 14,259 to 13,699 (51% to 49%).

A five-year, 0.9-mill levy passed in New Carlisle with 63% of the vote. The levy is expected to generate about $78,000 yearly, allowing the New Carlisle Public Library to increase its hours.

In Oak Harbor, a five-year, 1-mill renewal levy for current expenses of Oak Harbor Public Library was passed, with 3,221 voting for the levy and 1,399 voting against.

Pickerington saw the passage of a 1.25-mill permanent levy to fund operations at Pickerington Public Library. The levy passed by a vote of 12,052 to 8,747 (57.9% to 42.1%).

Port Clinton voters passed a five-year, 0.8-mill replacement levy for current expenses of the Ida Rupp Public Library. The levy was passed by a vote of 3,900 to 1,803.

Stark County’s Issue 4, which sought an eight-year, 2.2-mill levy to help Stark County District Library modernize its 10 locations, failed, with 52% of voters rejecting the measure. The levy was voted down in every community except Canton and Meyers Lake. Executive Director Mary Ellen Icaza says that if the district cannot pass a new levy before its existing 1.7-mill property tax expires in 2019, the library will lose more than half of its operations budget.

In Tipp City, a five-year, 0.75-mill renewal levy for the Tipp City Public Library passed with 72% of the vote.

Willoughby-Eastlake Public Library system saw the renewal of a 1-mill levy, along with a 1-mill increase. The income will generate an additional $1.5 million annually for seven years. The levy renewal and addition passed by a vote of 14,401 to 11,630.


Voters in Tigard rejected a local option levy in May aimed at providing additional funds for the city’s library, parks, and police department. If passed, the levy would have cost property owners $1.18 per $1,000 of assessed value.


In Oley Township, a proposal to pass a library tax of 0.09 mills for the establishment and maintenance of Oley Valley Community Library passed by a vote of 978 to 469.


In Austin, Proposition B passed with 73% of the vote. The proposition calls for the issuance of $128 million in bonds and notes for city libraries, museums, and cultural and creative arts facilities.


With 66% of voters opting against it, a statewide nonbinding ballot question failed. If passed, the measure would have indicated majority support of a 10-cent tax on motor fuels to raise more than $100 million for education, including school libraries.


The Pierce County Rural Library District Proposition 1 Levy Lid Lift measure passed, with 106,844 voters (50.2%) casting yes votes, raising the levy rate to 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.

Sequim voters passed Proposition 1, creating the Sequim Library Capital Facility Area tax district. However, they rejected Proposition 2, which would have approved bonds and tax levies to expand the Sequim Library building from 6,050 square feet to 17,000 square feet. Fifty-eight percent voted for that proposition, which required 60% to pass.


An excess levy for Brooke County, which includes funds for the Brooke County Public Libraries in Wellsburg and Mary H. Weir Public Library in Weirton, passed by 5,202 to 2,501.

In Kanawha County, an excess levy to raise $3.1 million annually over the next five years for the county public library system passed by a vote of 37,505 to 18,053.

Pleasants County voters passed a five-year, $3 million continuing levy that will fund the school system as well as the public library. The levy passed by 1,536 to 949.

Wood County voters approved a five-year continuing levy with more than 72% of the vote. The levy is expected to generate more than $18 million annually for Wood County schools and libraries.


By a vote of 572 to 553, Ellsworth passed a nonbinding referendum to partially fund a new library through a $3 million village loan.

Gibraltar passed, with 70% of the vote, a referendum calling for $4.4 million to remodel Carlson High School’s library and media center.


In Carbon County, voters approved by 3,603 to 1,502 a 1% sales tax that will allow the town of Hanna to pay all utilities and insurance for the Hanna branch of the Carbon County Library System. The tax will also benefit the Encampment branch.

Laramie County voters passed by 64% a sales tax to fund road maintenance. Nearly 70% of the $22 million Laramie County will receive as a result of the tax will go to the Public Works Department, with an additional 10% going to help fund the purchase of books for the Laramie County Library.


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