Referenda Roundup, 2001: Libraries Get the Voters’ Approval

Despite worries about a slumping economy, voters approved more local library measures nationwide than they rejected this year in elections held November 6 and earlier.

Good news came from Ohio, where, even as other high-profile tax issues were defeated, library measures were approved in Cleveland Heights–University Heights, Columbiana, Middlefield, Painesville, Perry, Shaker Heights, and Twinsburg. And in Loudoun County, Virginia, where county government projects are frequently rejected, voters approved $46.4 million to expand a library and build a recreational center, according to the November 7 Washington Post.

However, in Washington state, government officials predict the November 6 passage of Initiative 747 will have a devastating effect on local budgets, gutting essential services that rely heavily on property taxes, such as libraries and fire departments.

I-747, which limits property-tax increases to 1% annually unless voters approve a higher limit, passed easily even though groups opposing it outspent the initiative’s backers $945,000 to $657,000, the Seattle Times reported November 7. Similar initiatives sponsored by antitax crusader Tim Eyman, I-695 and I-722, were passed by voters but declared unconstitutional by the courts because they addressed more than one subject.

Washington’s Department of Revenue estimates I-747 will cost state and local governments $1.8 billion over six years. In King County, Library System Director Bill Ptacek said the measure would mean the library eventually will have to cut spending by 20%, affecting book purchases, computer access, and library hours, the Times reported November 8.

Although Eyman said he wrote I-747 carefully to make sure it complied with the constitution, some believe the measure could still be challenged. “It’s not necessarily clear sailing,” attorney and University of Washington law professor Hugh Spitzer said in the November 7 Times.

In view of the passage of I-747, as well as the weakening economy, Seattle Mayor Paul Schell asked all city departments other than police and fire to trim their spending by 4% to cut $24 million from the city budget. The Seattle Public Library board chose to make its $1.4-million cut by shutting down for one week each in May and December rather than laying off employees or cutting back acquisitions. Library staff would be on unpaid furlough during the shutdowns.

Schell stressed that he did not propose the library’s plan, adding that he would work with the board to “consider other options that would reduce the effects on schoolchildren and other regular patrons.” However, he said, the city charter places the final decision with the board.

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. The online report will be updated as new results are received; a full report will also appear in the January 2002 American Libraries.

Alabama. In Shelby County, voters approved a proposal giving the county commission power to create ordinances governing issues such as libraries, road construction, and parks. In July, voters there rejected for the second time a library fee increase that would have raised dues from $15 to $40 per year. The library, which has not increased dues in 14 years, does not receive support from city or county property taxes.

Arkansas. In Pulaski County, results ran 2–1 in favor of tax increases: Sixty-four percent of Little Rock and 53% of North Little Rock voters approved 1-mill increases, while a similar increase for the Central Arkansas Library System was rejected by 61%.

California. In the first major Bay Area test of a new state law lowering the percentage of votes required to approve school-bond measures from two-thirds to 55%, San Mateo voters passed an $88-million measure to upgrade classrooms in the Sequoia Union High School District, which also includes modernizing libraries. A $207-million bond issue for community college improvements—including the construction of a Canada College library in Redwood City—was also approved.

In June, Millbrae’s Measure C—allowing the city to issue $10.6 million in bonds for a new community library to be built on the site of the existing building—passed, while a similar measure to issue bonds for the construction of a library and community center was defeated a few miles away in San Bruno.

Orinda voters easily passed Measure H, a $27 parcel tax to increase city funding for Orinda library hours from 29 to 54 hours per week. The Friends and the city each had been paying $50,000 to cover additional hours, but both said they wouldn’t be able to sustain such funding.

Colorado. Fort Collins voters soundly rejected three measures that would have increased sales tax from 3% to 3.29% for 20 years to generate $78 million for a new downtown library, an expanded museum, and a new performing-arts theater. Officials were left wondering how they would build the new cultural facilities, for which they already own land.

Voters passed two bonds supporting the Rampart Library District—one to build new libraries in Woodland Park and Florissant and one to pay for additional staff and materials at the new facilities. The LeVeta Public Library District increased its mill levy from 2.12 to 3.87. And by a margin of 147 votes, the Conejos County Library was approved to become a tax-supported library district. The library’s budget had been cut in half because the town needed a new fire truck.

Illinois.In April, voters in Algonquin, North Aurora, Elmhurst, Erie, Glenwood, Manhattan, and Prairie Trails, Wauconda, and Wilmette approved tax measures to benefit libraries.

Mundelein voters, however, rejected for the third time a referendum to cover operating costs for the Fremont Public Library District. And the Henderson County Library lost a property-tax increase that would have supported maintenance costs. Library issues were also defeated in Centralia, Edgar County, Green Hills, Homer, Maple Park, Stillman Valley, West Chicago, and Zion-Benton.

Iowa. Eighty-nine percent of voters passed a referendum for a new $2-million facility in Waukee May 1. In Cedar Falls, more than 75% of voters approved a $3.25-million bond for a new library October 2.

Kansas. In April, McClouth residents approved the expansion of their small library, formerly just a few shelves in a community center that was supervised by volunteers. A library board was to be appointed, after which the city would be able to put tax money toward the library’s expansion, as well as apply for funds from the state library.

Louisiana. Allen Parish residents approved a 2-mill increase to fund library operations; and voters renewed property taxes to support library systems in Caldwell, Sabine, St. Landry, St. Mary, and Vernon parishes. Two propositions supporting the Shreve Memorial Library—one a renewal and one rededicating 0.5 of 4.66 mills for the Caddo Criminal Justice System—were approved by Caddo Parish voters. Proposals to increase maintenance operation funds for St. Mary Parish Library and to finance capital improvements for DeSoto Parish Library were defeated. Livingston Parish voters defeated a bond November 17 that would have paid for four new libraries.

Maine. In Wells, where the library in recent years has become the focus of a battle for control between the board and the town’s selectmen, citizens overwhelmingly rejected an ordinance that would give selectmen final budget and hiring authority at the library.

Michigan. Although a 1.6-mill property tax to fund the Grand Ledge Area District Library was defeated by area residents in March, voters approved a similar measure by two to one November 6.

In June, by an overwhelming 6–1 ratio, Muskegon voters passed a 2.4-mill, 20-year property tax to fund the Hackley Public Library. The millage followed last fall’s defeat of a countywide measure that would have covered operations at Hackley and other Muskegon County libraries.

Buchanan citizens in February narrowly approved two proposals: 0.9 mills for operation and maintenance of the Buchanan District Library and 0.3 mills for the purchase and renovation of the former Electro-Voice building for use as a district library.

Other results across the state were mixed: Voters approved tax measures for the Richland Community Library, Shiawassee District Library, and Hesperia Public Library.

In Novi, a measure to build a new, 80,000-square-foot facility was defeated. Backers said the new building was needed because the library had outgrown its current 24-year-old home, where overcrowding sometimes forces the library to turn away visitors from special programs. Opponents criticized the lack of a detailed plan for how the money would be spent as well as the fact that the 1.2-mill increase did not have an expiration date.

Measures were also rejected in Clawson and East Grand Rapids. And voters were split in support of the Warner Baird District Library: In May, a 1.25-mill to cover library operations was defeated, but in September, a 1.2-mill to operate a new facility was approved.

Missouri. In April, Doniphan and Ripley County residents passed a bond issue to pay for improvements to and expansion of the county library. Washington voters extended for seven years a sales tax to cover improvements. Five-cent tax levies were defeated in McDonald County as well as in the counties served by the Northeast Missouri Library Service.

Montana. Voters in three areas overwhelmingly passed measures: By a vote of 398 to 135, Belgrade voters easily approved a $500,000 bond issue to add 2,200 square feet to the library’s main floor as well as a basement and a second floor to allow for future expansion. In Three Forks, residents passed by 229 to 123 an extra 3 mills per year, which will pay for a full-time librarian position. And in June, nearly 66% of Bozeman voters backed a $4-million bond issue for a new library.

Nevada. Henderson voters rejected a tax increase in June that would have paid for six new branches as well as the renovation of the downtown library.

New Mexico. Albuquerque citizens approved bond proposals that included $5.5 million for libraries October 2.

New York. In Smithtown, voters supported a plan to make the library system an independent taxing district, whereby voters decide the library’s budget and elect trustees in special elections. A similar measure was narrowly defeated in 1991. Wappingers Falls citizens passed by a 2–1 margin a referendum increasing the town’s contribution to Grinnell Library’s budget from $100,000 to $314,000, which will allow Sunday hours, more staff, and expanded programs and materials. Voters in Moreau, Queensbury, and Glens Falls also supported libraries by approving a budget increase of 1.4% for the Crandall Public Library.

In June, Geneva residents rejected a tax increase of approximately $36 per year to fund the library.

In September, Williamson voters approved a referendum to purchase land for a new library.

North Carolina. Durham County voters approved a $10.3-million referendum to build a new East Regional branch, to expand and renovate the Stanford L. Warren branch, and to pay for the purchase of land for future construction. A $5.3-million bond to renovate and expand the Wilson County Public Library passed by 71% of voters.

Ohio. A $9.5-million bond issue passed by 72% of voters will pay for a complete renovation of the Cleveland Heights–University Heights Public Library as well as the incorporation of a recently purchased building across the street, which will house an expanded children’s area and a teen center. Some space in the new building will be rented to a local theater group and an arts collaborative, both of whom will partner with library staff to offer free after-school programs.

Despite victories in several towns, Ohio libraries lost a few battles this year too. Westerville voters rejected a 1.4-mill levy for the construction and operation of two branch libraries. In February, Massillon residents defeated by almost 3 to 1 a bond to raise $6 million over 22 years for library expansion and renovation. A proposed 0.8-mill levy for the Portage County District Library lost as well.

Oklahoma. In April, voters in Mounds passed a one-cent sales tax, a third of which will go toward the library.

Pennsylvania. Kennett Township residents voted to continue a 0.2-mill tax for the Bayard Taylor Memorial Library. A proposed tax for the Moon Township Public Library was rejected, by a 2 to 1 margin.

Texas. Seventy-two percent of Houston area voters backed Proposition E, which will give Houston Public Library $40 million to invest in library facility construction and improvement. The money will pay for four new or expanded branches, renovations to four branches as well as the main library, and the completion of the library’s plan to meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.

Utah. In Washington County, a $20-million bond to remodel and expand the main library, build four new branches, and remodel two branches was approved; $5.2 million of the bond will go for books and $1 million will go toward computers. In Cedar City, voters approved a not-to-exceed-$6-million bond for a new library. A permanent tax levy in Franklin County was overwhelmingly rejected May 22. In February, a $22-million bond to expand the Weber County Library was defeated.

Vermont. In June, voters denied $83,164 in funds for the Rutland Free Library, the second time such a funding request was rejected.

Washington. Voters in the Concrete area approved the establishment of a partial library district. In May, Edmonds voters approved the annexation of the city’s library into the Sno-Isle Regional Library System, causing a 48.7-cent increase per $1,000 of assessed value for property owners in 2002.