Referenda Roundup, 2000: Close Calls and Tax Revolts

The Presidential election wasn’t the only balloting watched closely by librarians on November 7. Some library measures passed handily, but tax hikes this year were a particularly tough sell.

Minneapolis residents approved a $140-million referendum to build a new central library and renovate existing branches. The measure, which passed by 67%, puts in place $110 million of the $175 million budgeted to build and equip the new five-floor facility, which will take up two blocks on the site of the current library on Nicollet Mall. The successful referendum caps a three-year effort that faced opposition by the city chamber of commerce.

Meanwhile, in California, library supporters in Contra Costa County, with only 65.8% of the yes votes, once again narrowly lost their bid to raise more than $11 million for more books and longer hours through Proposition L. This was the county’s fourth attempt in eight years to get two-thirds approval for a library tax. Contra Costa ranks next to last in per-capita spending among the Bay Area’s 37 public library systems, despite its relative affluence. The proceeds from the one-eighth-cent sales tax would have kept libraries open as many as 64 hours a week—up from 29 at some locations—and expanded community programs.

Elsewhere in California, more than 75% of San Francisco voters favored Proposition A, a $106-million bond measure to renovate 19 branches and build four new ones. First in line for renovations are three buildings said to be most vulnerable in the event of an earthquake: the Marina, Noe Valley, and Richmond District branches.

In San Jose, Measure O passed with 75.5% approval to raise $211.8 million to build six new branches in underserved areas, expand 14 others, and increase the number of seats and computers in all of them. The improvements, coupled with those already underway, amounts to a complete overhaul of San Jose Public Library’s facilities in roughly 10 years’ time.

Alameda voters approved by 78.4% a $10.6-million bond to improve the city’s 98-year-old main library and two branches. Strong library support in Berkeley resulted both in the renewal of a 12-year-old library tax and passage of a $5.2-million bond to make existing branches more earthquake-resistant and accessible to people with disabilities.

Sacramento County’s Measure P narrowly failed to gain a two-thirds majority to extend hours and improve branch service in Citrus Heights, Elk Grove, Galt, Isleton, and unincorporated areas of the county.

The sudden rush of library propositions was a direct result of the passage of a statewide bond referendum in March to set aside $350 million in matching funds for cities needing to improve library facilities. The funds will be allocated by the California Public Library Construction and Renovation Board, chaired by State Librarian Kevin Starr.

Meanwhile, library bond issues in other states had their ups and downs. American Libraries’ state-by-state roundup of library referenda and other local ballot measures is based on reports from online news sources and state library agencies.

Alaska. Voters overwhelmingly rejected a statewide 10-mill tax cap, modeled after California’s 1978 antitax Proposition 13, which would have resulted in diminished library hours in some communities.

Colorado. A tax cut in the form of a state constitutional amendment that would have reduced property and vehicle tax bills by $25 annually was soundly defeated. The Colorado Library Association had warned that the effect on public libraries would be devastating and offered as an example the Pikes Peak Library District in Colorado Springs, which would have lost $3.8 million in the first year of enactment and $6.1 million in the second year from reduced property-tax revenue alone.

The Estes Valley and Ignacio library districts increased their tax levies, while Jefferson County Public Library lost its bid for an increase. Custer County schools in Westcliffe passed a bond issue allowing a new school library. Elbert County and Red Feather Lakes voted to form new library districts. Aurora voters approved $17.6 million for renovations to two existing branches and the construction of two new ones.

Connecticut. Voters approved a $21.5-million bond issue for the second phase of the expansion of Hartford’s Central Library and renovations of two branches.

Florida. A $2.2-billion referendum passed by voters in Jacksonville September 5 included $150 million for a new main library, six new branches, and improvements to 13 new branches. The library component of the measure, touted as the Better Jacksonville Plan, was viewed as crucial to passage of the half-penny sales-tax hike, the first time in 12 years that residents had improved a tax increase.

Clearwater passed a $15-million bond issue July 11 for the construction of a new 90,000-square-foot main library downtown.

Georgia. Gwinnett County citizens approved a 1% local-option sales tax that is expected to provide up to $18.75 million for three new county library branches. Douglas County voted for a 1% sales tax to support a new public library.

Idaho. A West Bonner County Library District was established by a majority vote of 78% to serve a population of 3,300 headquartered in Priest River.

Illinois. A new $24-million central library and a $4-million southwest-side branch for the Gail Borden Public Library District were approved by voters in Elgin. However, they rejected a tax increase to cover costs to run the new facilities, forcing trustees to examine other funding options.

Voters in the New Lenox Grande School District rejected a measure that would have generated an extra $2.2 million annually. The last time district residents approved a tax-rate increase was in 1976; because of mounting debts, it was expected that librarians, technicians, and extracurricular staff would be cut severely.

Library tax hikes in the West Chicago, Glenwood-Lynwood, Zion-Benton, and Rural Woodstock library districts were defeated, while an increase was voted for the Wauconda Area Public Library District.

Residents in Hickory Hills and Palos Hills rejected a tax increase to raise $4.2 million to replace the existing Green Hills Public Library and fund expanded hours and additional programs. Voters had also rejected a more ambitious proposal in 1999.

Iowa. A vote to sell bonds to expand the Iowa City Public Library passed by 67%. The funding will double the library’s size by extending it into an adjacent building owned by the city.

Opponents of a library bond referendum in Burlington won a decisive victory at the polls October 10. The $4.5-million measure, which lost by nearly 2–1, would have covered part of the $11.5-million cost of a new building. Library staff participated in a counseling session the morning after the election to confront the loss.

Kansas. A $2-million library bond in Ulysses passed by one vote (573 for, 572 against) after a recount September 13. A special election eight days earlier showed the measure failing by one vote, but the recount was ordered after 16 provisional ballots were questioned. The funding will go toward a new three-story facility and a tripling of the square footage in the current Grant County Library structure.

Maryland. Baltimore voters overwhelmingly approved proposals to sell $90 million in bonds, $7.5 million of which will go to the Enoch Pratt Free Library System. Most of the dollars will be used for the third and final installment of a 35,000-square-foot regional library, and the rest is slated to help pay for a planned $50-million renovation of the main library on Cathedral Street.

Michigan. Voters passed a local millage for the Ogemaw District Library in Rose City to offset revenue cuts from penal fines that provide a major portion of the library’s budget. Kent County voters approved a millage to add hours and programs at the Kent District Library.

A tax proposal in Tyrone Township to pay for access to the Genesee District Library was defeated in a close vote; residents of Fenton and Linden now have nowhere to check out books since the Cromaine District Library cut services to them in August.

In September, Muskegon County voters defeated a property tax that would have supported all public libraries in the county for 20 years. Especially hard hit was the Hackley Public Library in Muskegon, which also faces a major loss of income from a nonrenewable school district tax that expires next year.

Minnesota. In St. Cloud, citizens passed by 51% a referendum to expand their library at a cost not to exceed $20 million. In Pierz, voters rejected a $7.65-million measure to establish a community center and library.

Missouri. For the third time in 18 months, Howard County voters forcefully rejected a property-tax hike to support their share of the Daniel Boone Regional Library System in Columbia. Earlier this year, board members threatened to cut Howard out of the four-county regional system, since all the other jurisdictions have passed tax increases. Howard County’s levy has remained at 10 cents since 1959.

Montana. Voters approved increased library levies in Lewis and Clark, Missoula, Dawson, Cascade, and Jefferson counties.

In Madison County, residents approved a consolidation of three city libraries into a county system, but turned down a tax levy to support it.

Nevada. Citizens of Washoe County approved a bond measure that included $6.3 million for a new regional library and $3.7 million for a new library in South Truckee Meadows.

New Jersey. Hillsdale residents defeated a proposal for a new library and civic-center complex on the west side of town, opting instead for a plan to refurbish the existing library, a historic downtown building.

Voters in Montvale and Park Ridge shot down a plan for a joint library. Town leaders had initially championed the measure because Montvale had been seeking to expand for years and Park Ridge is still recovering from the floodwaters of Tropical Storm Floyd. But after learning that the office building they had planned to acquire was no longer available, the two mayors abandoned the plan and urged residents to vote no.

New York. Voters in Pawling and Poughkeepsie overwhelmingly approved increased funding for their public libraries.

A $2.5-million proposal to build a new library and vacate the 27-year-old, overcrowded facility in Williamson was narrowly defeated.

North Carolina. Voters in Greensboro approved a referendum by more than a 2-to-1 margin to issue up to $5 million in bonds for the construction of two new public library branches.

Ohio. Franklin County voters approved renewal of a 2.2-mill property tax that will help fund Columbus Metropolitan Library development and expansion through 2012.

Portage County District Library’s quest for local funding to expand existing buildings, build new branches, and extend bookmobile visits to nursing homes met with defeat.

Oregon. Hood River County and Wilsonville public libraries won bond measures for expansion projects, while Independence Public Library got approval to convert a downtown store into a new facility. A bond measure for a new library in Gladstone failed.

Pennsylvania. Pennsbury Township residents repealed a special-assessment tax levied in 1995 to support the Bayard Taylor Memorial Library in Kennett Square, resulting in a $60,000 annual funding loss. Afterwards, township officials said they were still planning on contributing to the library but had not decided how much or in what form.

Another library tax was repealed in Wayne County, where it had only been in place since May. So far, the tax had brought in $440,000 to the Wayne County Public Library in Honesdale, allowing it to launch an interlibrary loan program and book service to two nursing homes.

Horsham Township voted to establish a library, while Montgomery Township decided not to.

Rhode Island. Bristol voters soundly approved a bond of up to $2 million for the Rogers Free Library to expand into an adjacent building.

Virginia. Henrico County approved a $28.4-million bond measure to fund two new regional libraries in the Richmond area.

Washington. I-722, a statewide initiative that will roll back local property taxes to 1999 levels and have a disastrous effect on local library funding, won approval by 57% of the voters. The city of Seattle, which faces losing $12 million in taxes next year, has started consulting with other districts in joining a lawsuit to challenge its passage on constitutional grounds. The November 9 Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported that I-722 suffered from the same flaw that doomed last year’s I-695 tax cap because it dealt with more than one issue.

Voters in the Woodland School District who reside in Cowlitz County voted by a slim majority not to join the city of Woodland and Clark County in creating a new library district. Rural residents will thus have to continue paying $95 a year to borrow books. Cowlitz is one of eight counties in the state that doesn’t have universal library service, according to the Washington State Library.

Citizens in Battle Ground failed to get 60% support to pass a bond measure, on the ballot for the third time, to turn an old church building into a bigger branch of the Fort Vancouver Regional Library System. The library board is expected to ask county commissioners to try again next year.

Snohomish voters passed an $8-million bond issue in September to build a new 23,000-square-foot public library. Castle Rock approved a library levy by 67% on election day, while citizens of Sammamish approved joining the King County Library System.

Wisconsin. Shorewood residents approved a $5-million plan to expand the village library.