Referenda Roundup 2019: Final Report

How states performed on library measures

November 12, 2019

Referenda Roundup (Illustration: Tom Deja)
Illustration: Tom Deja

In the 2019 election year, American Libraries, in partnership with the Public Library Association, tracked more than 100 library referenda across 24 states. A large selection of them appears here and will appear in our January/February 2020 issue. While this year’s referenda crop appears less bountiful than last (in 2018, we featured 146 across 33 states), the rate of success is higher: Nearly 90% of this year’s votes ended in the library’s favor (as compared with last year’s rate of nearly 80%).

In terms of the number of referenda approved, Ohio and New York were the front-runners; each boasted 20 or more victories. Colorado, too, had a big year, with at least eight measures passed.

Update: This article was revised on November 13 and December 5.

ALABAMA

In Leeds, voters rejected a proposed property tax increase of 9 mills by 1,506 to 971 in January. The funds generated would have gone toward the construction of a new library as well as a new high school athletics complex and other projects.

ARIZONA

In Phoenix, Proposition 106—which would have capped budgets for some city programs if pensions weren’t funded—failed in August. Opponents of the proposition argued that it would have resulted in decreased funding for libraries and other city services.

CALIFORNIA

Long Beach residents approved Long Beach Public Library’s $3.6 million budget in May.

The Los Angeles Unified School District in June saw the defeat of a parcel tax that would have raised $500 million annually for 12 years. If approved, the tax would have supported counseling, nursing, and library services, among many other offerings. The measure needed a two-thirds majority to pass but won only 46% of the vote.

COLORADO

A proposal to increase property taxes from 2.5 mills to 4 mills in Bayfield’s Pine River Library District passed; unofficial results showed 59% in favor, 41% opposed.

In Brighton, a ballot issue that would have increased a mill levy for residents of the Anythink/Rangeview Library District failed by about 3,700 votes. If passed, the increase would have represented a cost of $1.32 every month for each $100,000 of a home’s assessed value.

Taxpayers voted to legalize recreational cannabis and to levy a 4% variable tax on its sales to support the Moffatt County Library in Craig (as well as the town’s Museum of Northwest Colorado) for five years.

In Delta County, a measure that would have generated funds for the public library district in a 2.7-mill levy increase failed with about 56% of voters in opposition.

Eagle County voters approved an operating levy adjustment to maintain the amount of revenue generated by the Eagle Valley Library District’s existing 2.75-mill levy, which was approved in 1993. 64% of voters were in favor, 36% opposed.

Garfield County Public Library District will receive approximately $4 million in annual revenue, thanks to the passage of a 1.5-mill levy. The money will be used to restore services and operating hours to the six-branch system. Preliminary results showed the levy passing by a narrow margin: 51.5% in favor, 48.5% opposed.

A proposal to increase property taxes by 1.9 mills on behalf of the Gunnison County Library District passed by a vote of 3,304 to 2,552.

Southwest La Plata County will have a new library district, thanks to an approved tax increase of 1.5 mills to fund operations and services, with 52.1% of voters in favor and 47.9% in opposition.

Loveland voters rejected a proposed three-tenths of a cent sales tax that would have raised funds for several projects, including a new $18.6 million branch library. Preliminary results showed 53.1% of voters in opposition.

In Manitou Springs, voters approved by three votes the proposed Manitou Arts, Culture, and Heritage 0.3% sales tax, which will generate about $400,000 annually for projects including the expansion and remodeling of the Pikes Peak Library District’s historic Carnegie Library.

Pueblo City-County Library District saw the renewal of its 20-year-old mill levy and will supply $1.1 million annually for library programs, materials, and equipment. Early ballot counts saw the renewal passing by a vote of 21,278 in favor to 14,932 opposed.

In Telluride, Wilkinson County Public Library’s proposal for a 0.75-mill increase in property taxes passed by 73%, according to unofficial results.

CONNECTICUT

In Cromwell, voters in May approved by 234 to 77 a general government budget of nearly $17 million, which includes funds to support Cromwell Belden Public Library.

By 1,387 to 691, Madison voters approved in May a $150,000 addition to the operating budget of the E. C. Scranton Memorial Library in anticipation of a new building opening in 2020.

Stafford Public Library will receive about $571,000, thanks to an approved town budget of $41.3 million. The budget was approved in May by a vote of 538 to 396.

GEORGIA

A 1% special-purpose, local-option sales tax was approved in Athens–Clarke County with 78.4% of the vote. The tax will fund 37 construction and infrastructure projects, including a new public library building on the county’s east side.

IDAHO

With a vote of 35,545 to 15,878, Boise voters approved a proposition to require a citywide election on any library project of $25 million or more. The measure was in response to plans by Mayor David Bieter and the city council to build a new main library designed by architect Moshe Safdie at a cost of more than $100 million. In the works for several years, the fate of the new library is now uncertain.

Thanks to the voters who favored a plant facilities levy in May by 3,354 to 1,640, Meridian’s library system will see significant renovations, expansions, and additions. The levy will cost $1.4 million annually for a period of 10 years. It is the first Meridian Library District funding measure to be passed since 1995.

ILLINOIS

By a narrow vote of 3,853 to 3,690, Barrington Area Unit District 220’s referendum—which would have raised property taxes to pay for $185 million in building projects, including the renovation of Barrington High School’s library—failed in April.

Huntley Area Public Library will renovate and expand its facility, thanks to a $12.9 million bond issuance that was approved by a 2 to 1 margin in April.

Palatine Public Library District’s request to increase the annual property tax levy by 29%—from 27 cents per $100 of assessed valuation to 35 cents—was approved in April by a vote of 4,434 to 2,429. Over six years, $5.8 million will go to fix the library’s roof; install energy-efficient lighting; and upgrade the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system.

In April, River Grove voters rejected—with 1,043 against and 471 in favor—a plan to issue $9 million in bonds for the purchase and renovation of a new library building.

In Rockton, Talcott Free Library will be able to carry out renovations and expansions after voters approved (by 895 to 398) in April a referendum to increase residents’ tax rate from 0.21 to 0.28 mills.

IOWA

Voters in Butler, Franklin, Grundy, Hamilton, Hardin, Jasper, Marshall, Poweshiek, and Tama counties have approved a $32 million general obligation bond referendum for the Iowa Valley Community College District. The funds will support several projects including improvements to Marshalltown Community College’s library. 62.4% of voters were in favor, 37.6% against.

A one-cent sales tax increase in Des Moines (and five neighboring cities) expected to generate $48.4 million annually was approved by voters in March. Part of the funds will be used to expand Des Moines Public Library hours.

In Oxford, voters authorized the indefinite levying of 27 cents per $1,000 valuation for the purpose of increasing the annual operating budget of Oxford Public Library. Sixty-eight percent voted in favor.

LOUISIANA

Lafayette City-Parish Council voted 7 to 1 in June to approve the use of $12 million in library reserve funds to build a new regional library and to expand an existing facility in Carencro.

Voters approved on October 12 a resolution to rededicate $10 million of Lafayette Parish Public Library’s surplus fund to roads and drainage. The measure passed with a vote of 59%. Library Director Teresa Elberson said she was disappointed but not surprised that the resolution passed, but added that library patrons would not be immediately affected.

MAINE

In Kittery, Rice Public Library will receive a $5 million renovation and expansion, thanks to voters who approved a bond referendum 1,719 to 582.

Paris residents voted in June to add $4,500 to the budget of the Paris Public and Hamlin Memorial Libraries.

Voters in Skowhegan approved a $12 million budget in June that included $120,294 for Skowhegan Free Public Library.

MASSACHUSETTS

Greenfield will receive a new $19.5 million public library, thanks to a vote of 3,294 to 2,108 that upheld a previous city council decision.

In May in Littleton, 538 voted for and 117 against a plan to borrow funds to renovate Reuben Hoar Public Library. Projected costs for the project are $13.1 million.

Sandwich taxpayers voted October 28 to approve a bond of $3.5 million for the interior renovation of Sandwich Public Library.

A measure that would borrow $10.5 million for a new Sharon Public Library building passed in May, with 541 voters in favor and 118 against.

MICHIGAN

In Flint, a $12.6 million bond will fund a complete renovation of Flint Public Library, thanks to a vote that found 68% in favor. In addition, the library’s 2-mill operating budget has been renewed, with 75% of voters in favor.

In Madison Heights, a proposal to amend the city charter to increase its general operating millage passed with 51% of the vote. The amendment changes the maximum authorized levy on property from 10 mills to 16 mills and allows increased spending on several city services, including the public library.

A proposed 15-year, 1.25-mill levy to fund building renovations for a community center that abuts Memphis Public Library and that hosts many of its programs failed by 84 to 72.

Pleasant Ridge voters approved, by a 91% margin, the renewal of a 0.5-mill, five-year levy for library services. It is expected to raise about $80,106 in 2020.

Voters in Portage have approved a proposed tax rate increase of 0.5 mill for 10 years to support Portage District Library. The first such increase in 27 years, the proposal passed with 59% of voters in favor.

With a vote of 269 to 78, Wakefield renewed a five-year, 1-mill levy that will provide funds for Wakefield Public Library.

MISSOURI

De Soto Public Library will benefit from a 16-cent property tax increase approved by 62.3% of the voters in April—its first in 28 years.

NEW JERSEY

Mahwah voters approved the increase of the tax rate that supports the Free Public Library from 3.33 cents to 3.75 cents per $100 of assessed equalized value of real property. The ballot question was passed with 73% of the vote.

NEW MEXICO

Albuquerque taxpayers authorized, with 72% of the vote, $8.8 million in general obligation bonds for constructing, renovating, and modernizing public libraries.

NEW YORK

In Apalachin, voters passed a buget increase of $20,000 to $142,444 for Apalachin Library by a vote of 569 to 496.

Auburn voters approved a tax levy for Seymour Library of $830,000, an increase of about $18,000. It passed by a vote of 103 to 9.

Aurora voters approved a budget increase of $6,000 to $66,150 for Aurora Free Library by 277 to 96.

Baldwin voters approved, by a vote of 1,086 to 349, the public library system’s proposed budget of $4.6 million (a $111,728 increase).

In Beekman, voters approved a budget increase of $19,329 to $424,329 for the Beekman Library by 1,597 to 894.

In Ballston Spa, voters approved in May the collection of $57,750 for public library funding, with 1,058 in favor and 184 against.

In Cato, voters approved a budget increase of $25,000 to $75,000 for Lang Memorial Library by 265 to 105.

In Chester, a proposition to increase the town’s annual contribution to the public library from $633,992 to $671,971 passed with a vote of 1,457 to 1,022.

Claverack voters approved a budget increase of $10,000 to $73,500 for the Claverack Free Library with a vote of 805 to 515.

Voters approved a proposed budget of $4.7 million (a 3% increase over 2019) for Clifton Park–Halfmoon Public Library by 669 to 142.

In Cortland, voters passed a budget increase of $8,721 to $392,298 for Cortland Free Library with 369 in favor and 158 against.

Fair Haven voters approved an increase of $15,000 to $45,000 for Fair Haven Public Library with 291 in favor and 115 against.

The Freeport Memorial Library’s annual budget will increase by 1.1% to $6.3 million, thanks to a May vote that saw 981 in favor, 236 against.

In Garden City, voters in May approved the use of $1.8 million in capital reserve funds to reconfigure the high school library.

Gardiner residents voted 1,233 to 523 to increase the annual contribution to the town library’s operating budget by $46,846 to $276,076.

Garrison residents voted 264 to 162 in May to increase annual funding for Desmond-Fish Public Library by 300%, from $75,000 to $300,000. This represents an annual tax increase from 17 cents per $1,000 of assessed home value to 64 cents per $1,000 of assessed home value.

Glens Falls, Moreau, and Queensbury voters have approved a 2% budget increase for Crandall Public Library. In Glens Falls, the budget passed 1,424 to 494; in Moreau, 1,192 to 777; and in Queensbury, 3,253 to 1,692.

The Great Neck Library’s proposed $9.6 million budget was approved in May, with 1,199 voters in favor and 323 against.

Guilderland will see $8.4 million in improvements and expansions to its public library, thanks to a vote of 2,612 to 1,502 in May. Among those improvements will be an expansion of the children’s section.

In Homer, voters approved a budget increase of $83,000 to $196,165 for Phillips Free Library by a vote of 481 to 95.

Voters in Hunter and Tannersville approved a budget increase of $28,000 to $84,000 for the Mountain Top Library by 483 to 245.

Interlaken voters passed a budget increase of $15,000 to $60,000 for Interlaken Public Library by 263 to 51.

In Kent, the town’s contribution to the public library budget increased by $39,536 to $566,686, thanks to a referendum that passed 1,856 to 850.

Lindenhurst voters approved in October, by a vote of 474 to 399, a 15-year, $9.4 million bond to renovate and expand the public library. It is the library’s first bond since its construction in 1969.

In Lockport in May, residents approved Royalton Hartland Community Library’s request to increase its budget by $2,000 to $105,000 by a vote of 278 in favor, 70 against. In addition, Barker Public Library’s request for a $1,500 tax levy increase to $76,500 was approved by a vote of 112 in favor, 39 against.

Mahopac Public Library’s 2019–2020 $3 million budget, which represents an annual increase of less than 1%, was approved in June by a vote of 356 to 75.

Marathon voters approved a budget increase of $30,000 to $82,000 for Peck Memorial Library by 160 to 50.

McGraw voters passed a budget increase of $5,000 to $59,500 for Lamont Memorial Free Public Library by a vote of 88 to 66.

With a vote of 245 in favor and 81 against, Montauk agreed in May to authorize its library to issue bonds for $7.5 million for renovation and expansion.

Voters in Moravia approved a budget increase of $25,898 to $75,000 for Powers Library by 298 to 90.

In May, Newburgh residents voted to levy $5.2 million in taxes for Newburgh Free Library. The measure passed 1,802 to 662.

Ogdensburg voters rejected in May, by a vote of 340 to 226, a proposed levy that would have benefited Ogdensburg Public Library. The library had requested a tax increase of $75,000.

Two school districts in Ovid voted on budget increases for Edith B. Ford Memorial Library of $19,000 to $80,000.

In Owego, voters approved a budget increase of $35,000 to $100,000 for Coburn Free Library by a vote of 605 to 450.

Funding to Field Library in Peekskill will increase by $75,000.

Phoenicia Library will receive its first tax levy increase in three years, thanks to a vote of 635 to 402 that approved a $10,000 hike to $172,000.

Port Byron voters approved a budget increase of $30,000 to $95,147 for Port Byron Library by a vote of 212 to 128.

In Putnam Valley, residents voted down a budget increase of $87,975 and stable funding for the Putnam Valley Free Library by 1,475 to 1,316.

Red Hook voters approved a budget increase of $16,400 to $81,600 for the Red Hook Public Library by 1,020 to 365.

Seneca Falls voters approved a budget increase of $15,000 to $292,000 for Seneca Falls Library by 297 to 96.

In Tivoli, voters approved a budget increase of $1,600 to $81,600 for the Tivoli Free Library with a vote of 1,040 to 347.

Union Springs voters passed a budget increase of $3,500 to $81,500 for Springport Free Library by 269 to 41.

In Victor, voters approved in June, with a vote of 228 in favor, 47 against, a 1.5-cent tax increase per $1,000 in assessed property value to benefit Victor Farmington Library.

Waterloo voters approved a budget increase of $17,325 to $223,745 for Waterloo Library and Historical Society by 289 to 115.

In Weedsport, voters approved a budget increase of $1,591 to $81,134 for Weedsport Free Library by 345 to 97.

OHIO

Statewide, 29 of 30 library levies passed, including two new levies. The average approval rating was 66%, according to the Ohio Library Council. A year ago, voters approved 35 library levies statewide.

Ada voters approved a five-year, 1-mill levy for Ada Public Library, passing it with 62.7% of the vote.

Ashtabula County voters approved by two votes a 0.25-mill continuous levy that will help fund technology and improvements for Ashtabula County District Library. The vote found 4,436 in favor, 4,434 in opposition. In the same county, a vote to renew a five-year, 1.5-mill levy for current expenses of Rock Creek Public Library passed with a vote of 467 to 157.

Bellevue Public Library had its 1-mill tax levy renewed by a large margin in four different counties. The levy was approved 666 to 244 in Sandusky County. It was approved by similar margins in the other counties—Erie, Huron, and Seneca.

Canton saw the approval of a 2-mill, eight-year property tax levy in May that will generate an additional $3.2 million annually for Stark County District Library, allowing it to provide extra services and materials, as well as maintain and upgrade buildings.

Champaign County and Madison County saw a levy for Mechanicsburg Public Library approved, with 65% of voters in favor. The money generated by the levy represents about a quarter of the library’s operating funds.

In Delaware County, a five-year, 1-mill renewal levy to generate about $820,000 annually for the Community Library of Sunbury was approved with 70% of the vote.

Harris-Elmore Library in Elmore saw the renewal of a five-year, 1.1-mill levy for current expenses passed by a vote of 2,116 to 802.

The Forest-Jackson Public Library in Forest will benefit from a 0.7-mill, five-year levy for operating expenses, which was passed 891 to 298.

In Granville, voters have approved a five-year renewal of the public library’s existing 1-mill levy. About 80% of voters favored the renewal.

In Lake County, a 1-mill levy to benefit Willoughby-Eastlake Public Library was renewed with a 1-mill increase, thanks to a vote of 65% in favor. The increase will yield an additional $1.5 million per year for seven years.

London Public Library’s renewal levy has passed with 76% of the vote; the $480,000 a year it is expected to generate represents 45% of the library’s budget. The levy will cost residents about $41 a year per $100,000 of property value.

In May, voters approved the renewal of a five-year, 1.91-mill levy for the North Ridgeville branch of Lorain Public Library. The vote saw 2,938 in favor, 976 opposing.

Oberlin Public Library will benefit from a five-year, 1.5-mill levy, thanks to a May vote of approximately 90% in favor.

Voters moved to increase by 0.6 mills Orrville Public Library’s eight-year, 0.75-mill levy. The levy passed 1,074 to 401.

In Portsmouth, a 1-mill renewal levy for the public library system passed 6,922 to 3,194.

A tax levy of 1.75 mills was renewed in Richland County to support Marvin Memorial Library, thanks to a vote of 1,806 in favor, 576 against.

Just over half (51%) of Stark County voters failed to approve a 1-mill renewal to benefit Louisville Public Library, 2,774 to 2,671.

The Public Library of Steubenville and Jefferson County has seen the renewal of a five-year, 1-mill levy via a vote of 9,727 to 4,028. The levy is expected to generate about $1.4 million a year (about a third of the library’s budget).

Tuscarawas County voters have renewed a 1-mill levy for Gnadenhutten Public Library, with 71% in favor.

In Warren, Warren–Trumbull County Public Library will receive $985,172 annually for materials, technology, and infrastructure updates, and expanded space for children and teen programming and community meetings, thanks to the passage of the library’s 0.4-mill continuing tax levy. The levy passed by a vote of 59% to 41%, per unofficial results.

In West Jefferson, Hurt-Battelle Memorial Library will benefit from a levy that will cost residents about $38 annually per $100,000 of assessed property value and generate about 44% of the library’s budget revenue. The levy passed with 72% of the vote.

In West Milton, voters renewed a 0.7-mill levy that provides nearly a third of Milton-Union Public Library’s annual budget. The levy passed with 75% of the vote.

In Williams County, a five-year, 1-mill levy for the public library passed with 77% of the vote.

A five-year, 2.4-mill renewal levy to benefit Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County has passed with 66% of the vote. The levy provides more than half of the library’s budget.

OREGON

Lincoln County voters passed the renewal of a five-year, $1.98 million levy that will allow unincorporated residents to retain their access to libraries in nearby Lincoln City, Newport, and Toledo without paying additional fees.

Union Gap taxpayers voted 236 to 139 to annex a new library into the Yakima County Library District. Doing so will increase property taxes by about 43 cents per $1,000 property value.

PENNSYLVANIA

Voters overwhelmingly approved in May a 0.55-mill tax for upkeep and programming at the Union Library of Hatboro. The initiative passed by a vote of 724 in favor, 287 against.

Lower Macungie Library will benefit from a 0.25-mill property tax that was passed with 54% of the vote. The tax, which is expected to raise $600,000 for the library, represents a 13% increase in the library’s annual funding.

SOUTH CAROLINA

Dorchester County voters approved a property tax referendum that will provide $30 million in library funding. Preliminary results found 11,289 in favor, 6,122 opposed.

VERMONT

In Charlotte, voters in March approved 629 to 236 the issuance of up to $700,000 in bonds to build an addition to the public library. For taxpayers, that represents an annual increase of $5 per $100,000 of property for 20 years.

WASHINGTON

In Lopez Island, a proposition to increase the Lopez Island Library District levy from 39 cents to 48 cents per $1,000 of assessed value was approved with 68.7% of the vote.

Pend Oreille County Library District saw the restoration of the property tax levy that funds its operations and maintenance, from 37 cents per $1,000 assessed value to 50 cents per $1,000 assessed value. The levy was restored via a vote of 2,293 in favor, 1,286 against.

Seattle Public Library will receive $219 million over seven years thanks to a levy renewal in August that saw 73% of voters in favor. The funds will support the library’s operations, e-materials, early learning programs, and seismic upgrades, as well as increase its operating hours; the vote also eliminated fines for overdue materials.

A property tax levy that funds Spokane County Library District’s operations was restored in August to 50 cents per $1,000 assessed value (up from 43 cents per $1,000 assessed value). Approximately 53% of residents voted in favor.

WISCONSIN

Jack Young Middle School in Baraboo will receive $42 million in renovations—including updates to the school library—thanks to an April vote that saw 2,322 in favor and 2,100 against.

Kaukauna voters have rejected a $32.9 million referendum that would have funded school renovations including library upgrades. The referendum failed with 3,007 votes against and 2,690 in favor.

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