Referenda Roundup 2020: Final Report

How states performed on library measures

November 11, 2020

Referenda Roundup 2020
Referenda Roundup 2020

In the 2020 election year, American Libraries and the Public Library Association tracked more than 100 library-related referenda across 27 states. Voters decided more than 90% of them in favor of the library. As usual, Ohio was a major front-runner, with 31 of 32 referenda voted in; Michigan came in second, with 18 of 20 approved.

Other states having a big year: New York, where voters gave a collective thumbs-up to five of six library levies; and Illinois and West Virginia, which approved six of seven and six of six referenda, respectively. Meanwhile, Arizona and New Mexico saw the successful passage of statewide measures. And Denver voters have opted to permit the city to spend money on broadband internet services and infrastructure for libraries and other users.

Some municipalities are awaiting provisional and mail-in vote tallies that may or may not change the results. A large selection of the referenda will appear in our January/February issue.

Updated: November 24, 2020

ARIZONA

The education funding measure Prop 208 (Invest in Education Act)—which would for some households add a 3.5% surcharge to the existing 4.5% income tax rate to help pay for teacher salaries and schools—has narrowly passed, with 52% of the vote. The act could raise as much as $827 million a year, one-quarter of which would support personnel such as school librarians.

CALIFORNIA

In Glendora, Measure Y, which will allow Citrus Community College District to issue $298 million in general obligation bonds, has passed. The bonds will generate $16.3 million annually for projects including the replacement of an existing library. The measure passed with 52,309 in favor, 38,995 opposed.

Woodland voters have approved a continuing quarter-cent sales tax measure, one-quarter of the proceeds of which will be allocated to the public library for educational and literacy programs and maintaining or expanding hours of operation. The sales tax measure itself passed with a vote of 10,895–5,868, while the measure to allocate a quarter of funds to the library passed 9,839–6,481.

COLORADO

With 82.6% in favor and 17.4% against, Denver voters passed Ballot Measure 2H, which will let the city spend money on broadband internet services and infrastructure for libraries, schools, and other users.

A proposal to raise an existing 0.24-mill levy by .9 mills passed in Gilpin County 2,648–1,441. The levy will raise approximately $397,000 annually for the county library. Without these funds, the library would close in January 2021.

CONNECTICUT

An automatic recount that took place in Coventry November 9 affirms a referendum providing for a $1.7 million renovation of Booth and Dimock Memorial Library. The measure passed by 31 votes (3,706–3,675).

ILLINOIS

In a narrow election decided by eight votes, Antioch residents decided to issue $9.6 million in bonds to upgrade the village’s public library.

Manlius, Macon, and Concord townships voted 183–60 in March to turn Buda’s Mason Memorial Library into a district library, thereby broadening its tax base and permitting it to remain open.

Calumet Park residents voted in March by a margin of more than two to one against an advisory question asking if the village should disestablish and dissolve the village’s library.

In March, 63% of voters in Cook and Kane counties opted to raise the operating tax rate for the Elgin-based Gail Borden Public Library District. The money will be used for building maintenance, IT, and security; preserving current services and hours; and expanding the district’s South Elgin branch.

Almost 57% of New Lenox voters approved, in March, the retention of a 7-cent increase to the tax rate of the New Lenox Public Library. The funds will extend library hours, expand services, and sustain funding for materials.

Riverside Public Library will receive a new storytime/multipurpose room, children and youth services common area, teen room, and area for middle schoolers, along with an upgraded public meeting room, thanks to a March referendum that saw more than 70% of voters approving a $1.5 million bond.

A March election found more than 60% of Streator voters in favor of raising an existing annual library tax from 15 cents per dollar to 23 cents per dollar. The increase will go toward maintenance and repairs.

INDIANA

In December 2019, Johnson County Council voted for a property tax increase of 2.5 cents for every $100 of assessed value. The funds raised will help pay for a new $8.8 million library that will replace the Clark-Pleasant branch of the Johnson County Public Library in New Whiteland.

IOWA

City council members voted in December 2019—well before an August derecho destroyed the existing library building—to start a public notice process for issuing up to $7 million in debt to help finance a new home for the Marion Public Library. Ground for the new building was broken October 1.

KANSAS

Leavenworth commissioners voted in August to approve a city budget that includes a 3.75-mill levy for library operations and a 1.15-mill levy for library employee benefits.

LOUISIANA

Ascension Parish opted in August, with 67% of the vote, to lower and consolidate the property taxes that support its libraries. Rather than paying two taxes of 2.6 mills and 4.2 mills each, residents will now pay a single tax of 5.6 mills, which represents a decrease of 15%.

With a vote of 54% in favor and 46% against, St. Martin Parish has extended by 10 years a 3.83-mill levy and rededicated it so that half its annual proceeds will go toward public libraries and half toward programs for the elderly, mandated expenses for operation of the criminal court system, or both. 

MARYLAND

Prince George’s County taxpayers have, with a vote of 295,462–45,557, authorized a nearly $28.8 million bond issue aimed at financing the design and construction of library projects.

MICHIGAN

Voters have renewed a four-year, 0.99-mill levy to benefit Barryton Public Library. The levy, which passed 70.9% to 29.1%, is expected to generate $110,000 in its first year.

With 31,692 in favor and 17,290 against, voters approved a 1.75-mill tax request for the purpose of operating, maintaining, and equipping the Bay County Library System. This represents a 0.25-mill decrease from the previous, 2-mill levy, which expired in 2019. The new levy will generate more than $5 million in its first year and expire in 2025.

In Birmingham, Baldwin Public Library will benefit from the passage of a 10-year, 0.82-mill operating levy that saw 4,928 in favor, 2,197 opposed.

Chocolay Township residents voted 2,783–752 to renew a three-year, 0.99-mill levy that will benefit Peter White Public Library in Marquette.

In August, voters passed an eight-year, 0.38-mill renewal levy for ClintonMacomb Public Library. The levy is projected to raise almost $2.5 million in its first year.

With a count of 599–171, Crystal Falls District Community Library saw the renewal of a five-year, 0.91-mill levy.

Elsie Public Library will benefit from a permanent 1-mill levy, which was voted in by a count of 823–376.

Goodland Township Library has seen the narrow rejection of a six-year, 0.88-mill renewal levy that would have generated approximately $59,500 in 2021. Taxpayers prevented the levy’s passage by a vote of 506 in favor, 559 against. The levy had also previously failed in August.

Voters in August rejected, with 57.5% of the vote, a 10-year, 1-mill levy that would have benefited Harrison Township Public Library. Had it passed, the levy would have replaced an existing 0.5-mill levy that expires in 2023.

Marquette Township voters renewed, with a count of 1,831–612, a two-year, 0.89-mill library levy that is expected to generate about $246,142 in its first year for Peter White Public Library in Marquette.

Voters in Melrose and Boyne Valley townships have renewed a five-year, 0.5-mill levy to support the Crooked Tree District Library. The levy is expected to generate about $166,785 for library operations. It passed with a vote of 994–586.

An eight-year, 1-mill tax levy to benefit Monroe County Library System was renewed in August 20,612–11,783. The levy provides about 75% of the system’s funding.

Mount Clemens Public Library saw the successful passage, in August, of a bond proposal that will permit it to borrow up to $8.8 million and issue general obligation unlimited tax bonds for library renovations and improvements. The proposal passed with 60.9% of the vote.

With 9,883 in favor and 3,998 opposed, voters have approved the renewal of a 0.4-mill levy to benefit the Otsego County Library. The levy has been in place since 1994.

Richmond Township taxpayers voted 335–93 for an increase of up to 2 mills in the township tax levy limitation for 15 years. The funds, which are expected to represent about $35,000 in year one, will benefit Richmond Township Library.

Voters have opted to approve a six-year, 0.75-mill levy for Sherman Township Library, with 936 in favor, 526 opposed.

In Troy, a 10-year, 1.1-mill levy to benefit the public library has passed with 64.1% in favor, 35.9% opposed. The funds raised by the levy will restore seven-day service, pay for building maintenance, and implement upgrades.

Watervliet District Library will benefit from the renewal of a five-year, 0.5-mill levy that was voted in 1,375–634.

In West Branch Township, a two-year, 0.91-mill renewal levy has been voted in with a count of 570–182. The levy is expected to raise $29,040 in its first year for Peter White Public Library in Marquette.

Wheatland Township Library has seen the renewal of two four-year levies. A 0.8-mill levy that is expected to generate about $35,965 in its first year and a 0.4-mill levy that is expected to generate about $17,983 in its first year both passed with 58% in favor.

MINNESOTA

The Rochester City Council voted 6–1 in October to pursue the possibility of a public-private partnership that would allow Rochester Public Library to expand into a space of at least 150,000 square feet.

MISSOURI

Barry-Lawrence Regional Library, which serves Barry and Lawrence counties, will benefit from a tax levy increase of 7 cents, thanks to a June vote of 4,425–2,807. The increase, which brings the current 15-cent library levy to a total of 22 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, will pay for materials, improved facilities and services, and general operating expenses.

Voters opted in a June election to increase a property tax levy from 20 cents to 26 cents per $100 of assessed value, by 57.6% of the vote, to benefit Callaway County Library District. The resulting funds will enlarge collections, expand programming and services, purchase a community outreach van, and provide building maintenance and updates. They will also make the Holts Summit branch of Daniel Boone Regional Library a permanent location and increase that branch’s weekly hours from 20 to 55.

MONTANA

Thanks to a June vote in Hamilton, Bitterroot Public Library will receive almost $144,000 a year for operations and maintenance. Voters approved a permanent additional 3-mill library levy by a vote of 5,313–3,641.

Jefferson County voters defeated in June a 9-mill levy increase that would have benefited community libraries in Whitehall and Boulder. The increase, which would have yielded an additional $141,534 annually, was rejected 1,209–1,058. 

NEBRASKA

With 5,738 in favor and 3,581 opposed, Columbus voters have approved the issuance of a $16 million bond for new library and cultural buildings. The bonds will be paid using an existing half-percent sales tax.

In Platte County, residents have opted against taxing those living outside the city limits of Columbus and Humphrey a maximum of $765,000 for a library service contract. The measure failed with 3,077 opposed, 1,520 in favor.

NEW JERSEY

In September, Hoboken City Council adopted by a vote of 8–1 a $177.8-million budget that reduces the municipal tax levy from a proposed increase of about 9.8% to 7.5%. The city’s total tax rate includes municipal, county, school, library, and open space taxes. 

In August, the Phillipsburg Town Council rejected an ordinance that would have allowed voters to decide whether the Phillipsburg Free Public Library should be dissolved. 

NEW MEXICO

With more than 66% of the vote, New Mexico voters approved a $9.7 million bond issue that will fund academic, public school, tribal, and public library resource acquisitions across the state. The bond is part of a package that is not expected to result in increased property taxes.

NEW YORK

Marcus Whitman Central School District saw in June the successful passage of tax levies for the Gorham Free Library ($54,600, approved 1,157–390); Middlesex Reading Center ($9,997, approved 1,205–345); and Rushville Reading Center ($8,000, approved 1,207–342).

In a June election, a levy that is expected to yield $334,700 annually for Hornell Public Library was approved 1,085–731.

James Prendergast Library in Jamestown will benefit from a $350,000 tax levy, thanks to a June vote of 1,883–1,677.

In June, Massena voters opted nearly two to one against a ballot proposition that would have switched the main source of local public library funding from the town to the school district. Cuts in library hours, staff, and materials are expected as a result.

In a December 2019 election, a $26.7 million bond referendum to renovate and expand the MasticMorichesShirley Community Library and create two branch libraries passed 1,173—1,078.

On December 8, Saratoga Springs voters will approve or reject a $129.7 million proposed capital project that encompasses renovations and safety improvements to the school district’s eight school buildings, including their libraries.

Flower Memorial Library in Watertown will receive $75,000 annually thanks to a June vote that saw 2,622 in favor and 906 against a tax levy on school district property owners.

OHIO

In Amherst, a 15-year, 0.73-mill improvement bond to fund an expansion of the public library was approved by voters 2,773–1,715 in April. It is expected to generate $437,328 each year.

Voters in April passed 209–71 a five-year, 2-mill replacement levy for the Wornstaff Memorial Public Library in Ashley. The library will receive an expected $97,000 annually as a result.

Voters opted 2,373–1,599 in April to levy an additional 2-mill tax that will more than double the size of the Lorain Public Library System’s Avon branch. The levy is expected to raise $1.9 million annually.

In Attica, voters have approved a 0.75-mill replacement levy that will raise approximately $105,000 for daily operations of Seneca East Public Library. The measure passed by a vote of 1,749–1,143.

Barberton Public Library saw voters renew a five-year, 1.95-mill levy by a count of 6,114–3,829.

Thanks to a vote of 7,162 in favor and 4,773 opposed, Champaign County Library will benefit from a 0.8-mill, five-year renewal levy that generates about $393,000 annually.

A 1.5-mill continuing levy to benefit Chillicothe and Ross County Public Library passed in April with a vote of 5,555–2,386. It was expected to generate about $1.9 million in 2020.

Cuyahoga County Public Library will benefit from a continuing 1-mill levy. The levy, which will cost the owner of a $100,000 home less than $3 per month, will raise about $18 million annually for library operations. Voters approved it 182,348–123,596.

In Cuyahoga Falls, voters renewed by a count of 14,136–6,862 a 1.9-mill, five-year levy to benefit the public library.

FindlayHancock County Public Library will benefit from a five-year, 0.5-mill renewal levy that passed in April with a vote of 10,887–4,368.

In Gratis, a five-year, 1-mill renewal levy to benefit Marion Lawrence Memorial Library passed 122–59 in an April election.

Southwest Public Libraries in Grove City and Columbus saw in April the renewal of a 10-year, 1-mill levy by a vote of 9,953–3,740. The levy is expected to continue to provide $2.5 million annually.

Huron County Community Library has seen the renewal of a five-year, 1.28-mill operating levy. In favor were 3,945 voters, with 2,278 opposing.

Louisville Public Library will continue to receive funds generated by a 1-mill levy, thanks to an April vote that renewed it by a count of 3,126–1,984.

Voters have renewed by a count of 8,399–5,010 a 2.9-mill, five-year levy for Massillon Public Library. The levy will generate $1.3 million annually.

Middleton-based MidPointe Library System will benefit from the April renewal of a five-year, 0.75-mill operating levy. The levy, the renewal of which passed with a vote of 18,248–6,099, represents nearly 36% of the library system’s operating costs.

Newcomerstown Public Library will benefit from the renewal of a five-year, 2.5-mill levy, which passed 1,591–587.

Brown Memorial Library in Lewisburg saw the passage of a five-year, 1-mill renewal levy with 614 voters in favor, 255 against.

Mount Gilead Public Library saw voters renew a 1-mill, five-year levy that will charge homeowners paying $35 per year for every $100,000 of assessed value. The levy passed by a vote of 2,416–1,608.

In March, Oakwood voters approved 1,577–749 a continuing 1.5-mill property tax levy that will fund daily and long-term operations and repairs of Wright Memorial Public Library.

Perry Public Library will continue to benefit from a 0.75-mill levy, which voters opted in March to renew. It will generate $234,739 annually and cost taxpayers $23.76 per $100,000 in property valuation.

A 1.9-mill, four-year replacement levy, expected to generate $1.3 million for Way Public Library in Perrysburg, passed in April by a vote of 2,794–693.

In April, voters passed 859–195 a five-year, 1.5-mill renewal levy for Plain City Public Library.

By a vote of 26,207 in favor and 29,664 against, a 1-mill, 10-year property tax levy for Portage County District Library has failed. Had the levy passed, the funds would have been used to restore operating hours at all branches, purchase a bookmobile, provide mobile service to school districts without branch locations, and double the library’s outreach to homebound patrons and assisted living facilities, among other efforts.

In Ravenna, Reed Memorial Library will benefit from a five-year, 1.5-mill renewal levy that passed by a vote of 6,083–2,656.

Birchard Public Library of Sandusky County will gain about $829,117, thanks to a 1-mill, five-year renewal levy that passed with a vote of 14,040–7,218.

In April, St. Marys Community Public Library saw the renewal of a five-year, 0.75-mill levy. The levy passed 1,344–399.

Sycamore voters passed a five-year, 0.8-mill renewal levy that will raise about $137,433 for daily operations of Mohawk Community Library. The levy passed 1,932–1,123.

In Van Wert, voters renewed a five-year, 0.5-mill levy to benefit Brumback Library; 9,500 voted in favor, 2,779 against.

A 1-mill, five-year renewal levy for Washington County Public Library passed 15,939–9,196.

Wood County voters approved a six-year, 0.8-mill levy that will cost $21.29 per $100,000 home per year and represent about 40% of the Wood County District Public Library’s total revenues. The levy passed 21,624–7,918.

In Yellow Springs, voters by a three to one margin renewed an 8.4-mill, five-year property tax levy, which will raise about $835,000 annually for designated entities, including the local library system.

OREGON

In Deschutes County, a $195 million bond measure to benefit Deschutes Public Library has passed with slightly more than 52% of voters in favor. The bond will fund the construction of a new central library in Bend as well as the doubling in size of the Redmond library and upgrades to other libraries in the county.

With more than 76% in favor, Eugene residents have renewed a five-year levy that will raise $2.9 million annually to maintain extended library hours and additional services. The tax rate for the levy: $0.15 per $1,000 of property value—two cents less than the current levy, which was passed in 2015.

Multnomah County will receive a new flagship library, thanks to voters approving by a 261,804–177,083 count the issuance of $387 million in general obligation bonds. The money will also finance the expansion, rebuilding, or renovation of seven branch libraries and the refurbishment of others; the addition of gigabit internet speed to all libraries; and the creation of a central materials handling and distribution center.

A five-year operations levy that would have funded Stayton’s library, pool, and parks by increasing the tax rate to 70 cents per $1,000 of assessed value on homes in the city failed narrowly in May, by a vote of 1,125–1,005.

In Sweet Home, voters approved by a count of 3,408–1,271 a five-year annual property tax levy of $1.17 per $1,000. The levy will generate about $2.4 million for public library operating expenses.

A five-year renewal levy of 35 cents per $1,000 assessed value that will fund general operations of Fern Ridge Public Library in Veneta has passed 58% to 42%.

PENNSYLVANIA

Bessemer Borough voters decided that the borough will continue to collect a 0.15-mill property tax levy to support the F. D. Campbell Memorial Library. The levy passed 388–139.

Chester County’s preliminary 2021 budget includes a request to increase the county library fund from 0.18 mills to 0.20 mills. The budget will be voted on by county commissioners in December.

In Upper Nazareth Township, 54% of voters in an April election approved a new tax that is expected to bring in $100,000 per year in funding for the Memorial Library of Nazareth and Vicinity.

RHODE ISLAND

Voters in Jamestown have approved, with a count of 3,022–907, a $1.5 million bond to renovate and repair the Jamestown Philomenian Library.

TENNESSEE

A judge has ruled that Nashville taxpayers will not be asked to vote on the Nashville Taxpayer Protection Act, a charter amendment that would have, if passed, rolled back the city’s recent 34% property tax increase. Nashville Public Library (NPL) Director Kent Oliver had said that if passed, the amendment would result in the closing of nearly all of NPL’s 21 locations.

VIRGINIA

Election Day saw Fairfax County taxpayers approving, with 66.1% in favor, $90 million worth of bonds for improvements to George Mason Regional Library, Kingstowne Library, Patrick Henry Library, and Sherwood Regional Library,

WASHINGTON

In Castle Rock, it appears voters have declined to reinstate a levy that would raise about $91,500 for the public library via a tax rate of 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. Because the levy was not passed for 2020, the library has had to rely on its budget reserve and donations to continue functioning, albeit with decreased operations. The levy needs a 60% supermajority approval to pass; as of press time, that number stood at 58%.

WEST VIRGINIA

In February, a five-year renewal levy to benefit Fayette County Public Libraries passed with 90% of the vote. The levy is expected to bring in $510,061 annually.

After narrowly failing to pass in June, a five-year, $215,070 levy to benefit Hampshire County Public Library has been approved by voters 6,230–3,019.

Jackson County Public Libraries saw in June the renewal of a four-year levy that is expected to generate $255,337 annually. The levy passed with nearly 70% of the vote.

In Morgantown, a four-year levy expected to produce $489,644 annually to benefit the public library system passed in June with more than 70% of the vote.

Taylor County Public Library will benefit from a renewal levy that passed 5,610–1,370.

A Wayne County Public Libraries levy will provide funding to Ceredo-Kenova Memorial Public Library, Wayne Public Library, and Fort Gay Public Library, thanks to a vote of 7,980–3,990. The levy has passed each year since 1990.

WISCONSIN

In February, taxpayers in Dodgeville voted 478–441 in favor of a referendum that will raise funds to build a new public library. The referendum limits those funds to $7 million, which equates to a taxpayer impact of 37 cents per day per $100,000 of assessed home value.

Residents of the Dodgeland School District in Juneau voted in April 950–509 to approve a $17 million referendum for improvements to school facilities, including library media center renovations.

By more than 50 percentage points, Madison taxpayers have approved a $317 million facilities referendum for the Madison Metropolitan School District. The referendum allows for renovations of the district’s high schools as well as the construction of a new elementary school that will include a library.

Mauston voters approved a $54.8 million referendum aimed at funding improvements for schools in Mauston School District. The referendum, which will allow Grayside Elementary School to expand its library, was voted in 2,756–2,127.

A $39.9 million referendum for upgrades at Medford Area Senior High School that would have included the reconfiguration of a theater space into a new library area was turned down by voters, with 3,383 voting yes and 3,531 voting no.

A 30-year, half-billion dollar referendum voted in by Racine County citizens in an April election will, among other things, provide new flooring for the libraries of Gilmore Fine Arts, Jefferson Lighthouse Elementary, and Mitchell K–8 schools.

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Referenda Roundup 2019: Final Report

How states performed on library measures