Referenda Roundup, 2002: Statewide Successes, a Mixed Bag Locally

Although the nation’s economic downturn has had a detrimental effect on library funding, it doesn’t appear to have had an overwhelming impact on the library measures before the voters in the November 5 election. The results were the usual mixture of approvals and rejections, with voters passing two statewide measures that promise major infusions of funding.

California’s Proposition 47, a $13.05-billion statewide school bond, won easily with 58.9% of the vote. In addition to providing funds to renovate and construct facilities, including libraries, at both the K–12 and higher-education levels, it also includes $10.5 million for the California State Library.

Among the library projects funded by the bond are a $19-million library addition and renovation at California State University/Long Beach; $4.3 million toward a new library at CSU/Monterey Bay; a $33.2-million library addition and renovation at Cal Poly Pomona; $27.7 million for renovation and equipment at the joint academic/public library at San Jose State University; and $7.4 million to equip the new library at CSU/San Marcos.

In New Mexico, voters approved statewide Bond Issue C, the Library Books Bond Issue 2002, by 59.6–40.4%. The bond will provide $7.7 million to some 770 public school libraries in 89 school districts, $4.9 million to about 100 public libraries in 33 counties, and $3.4 million to 25 college and university libraries.

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. This online report will be updated as new results are received; a full report will also appear in the January 2003 American Libraries.

Arkansas. By an overwhelming 61–39% margin, voters rejected a statewide ballot measure sponsored by the Libertarian Party that would have eliminated the sales tax on food and medicine. Opponents feared it would gut funding for state and local government, and a group called Arkansans to Protect Police, Libraries, Education, and Services sued unsuccessfully to strike the initiative from the November 5 ballot. At least twice in the last decade, legislators have rejected bills that would have removed the sales tax from food.

Fayetteville residents voted 83.7–16.3% October 1 to mandate that all of the 1-mill library tax collected within the city be given directly to the Fayetteville Public Library rather than to the countywide library system.

California. Although Measure D, a Palo Alto initiative to renovate the Mitchell Park Library and the Children’s Library, received 61.4% of the vote, the measure required a two-thirds majority to win. “Yes on D” cochair Gary Fazzino blamed the loss on “the toughest economic climate in 30 years.”

Richmond voters rejected a parcel tax to raise money for city libraries. The measure, which drew a 48.4% yes vote, required a two-thirds majority to win.

Walnut Creek voters passed a $22 annual parcel tax to increase library hours and purchase new books.

In Nevada County, voters overwhelmingly supported a measure extending a 1/8-cent sales tax for support services and materials at the Truckee Library passed four years ago; the final count was 76.5–23.46%.

School bond measures that included provisions for library facilities or collections passed in Walnut Creek, Ventura County, Bear Valley, and the Natomas Unified School District.

Los Angeles voters decisively rejected a measure to allow Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley to secede from the city. The proposal would have transferred ownership of assets, including libraries, to the new cities.

Colorado. A package of three initiatives to fund new cultural facilities—a new performing arts center, an expanded museum, and a new downtown library—was turned down by voters in Fort Collins. Some residents said a tax increase for the library alone might have succeeded.

Cultural facilities also lost out in Aurora, where voters rejected a measure to borrow $42 million for an arts complex, history museum, and expansion of the Central Library.

Lamar residents approved a 0.25% sales-tax increase to raise $2.3 million to remodel the Lamar Public Library building.

The Dolores Public Library District won approval of a 1.5-mill levy increase to raise $200,000 and allow leverage of another $375,000 in various improvement grants toward a new building.

In Adams County, a vote to increase the property tax to support various library facility improvements for the county library system failed by 48–52%.

The Nederland Community Library won district status by more than a 60% majority. The win, coupled with a separate community-center improvement victory, will create a library district and help improve the town’s library facilities.

Voters in both Pueblo and Lamar approved bond measures for schools that include school library improvements.

Connecticut. Voter apathy—only 19% of those registered turned out—was blamed for the narrow 589–541 defeat of a $7-million combined library and senior center in Oxford.

Florida. A 68.6% majority approved the Palm Beach County Library District’s request for a $55-million bond issue. Combined with some $16.5 million in impact fees from developers, the funds will allow the system to expand by 70% by 2010.

Union County Public Library received a whopping 70.5% voter approval for its operating millage on September 10. The rural system has reached Florida’s 10-mill operating cap, so the library must get voter approval every two years to assess a millage above the cap, which Director Mary Brown says makes the library very customer-oriented. “We appreciate every vote we received—and we’re working hard to earn every one of those we didn’t.”

Republican Charles Bronson easily won reelection as State Agriculture and Consumer Services commissioner over Democratic challenger David Nelson, a Miami-Dade middle school librarian making his first run for public office.

Georgia. A $140-million special-purpose local-option sales tax that passed in Henry County included $5.1 million for additions to two existing branches, a new facility to replace a rented branch facility, and the construction of an additional branch in a community that has currently no library.

Idaho. The communities of Ashton and Saint Anthony overwhelmingly voted to consolidate their public libraries with the Fremont County District Library in a measure supported by over 94% of the voters. However, Portneuf District Library failed to pass a $400,000 construction bond by only five votes out of 5,158 cast; the bond required a supermajority of 67%.

Illinois. Of 22 library referenda questions on the November 5 ballot, only eight passed. A $4-million bond issue to construct a new library building passed in Markham. Plans are already underway for a new building, although a 15-cent tax rate increase to stock and staff the new facility failed.

In addition to the new bond issues, a dozen libraries requested tax-rate increases, but only one—in North Riverside—passed, by 1,217–978.

Initiatives to create a tax-supported public library passed in two small communities, Williamsville and Willsville.

In March, Orland Park overwhelmingly approved a $20-million referendum to construct a new 85,000-square-foot building, and Fremont voters said they wanted the city to contribute $2.5 million toward construction of a new $7-million downtown library.

Iowa. Jay Robinson, a children’s librarian at Ames Public Library, ran as the Green Party candidate for governor. Before his defeat, Robinson noted, “The first goal is to get the ideas out; the second goal is to win.”

Louisiana. Residents in Madison and Evangeline Parishes authorized tax increases to fund library operations, while Beauregard and Red River Parish residents passed renewals of their library millages.

Desoto Parish approved a three-mill property tax to provide a $500,000 annual supplement to the library’s sales-tax income. Lafayette and Iberia Parishes approved respective $40-million and $2.35-million construction bond issues; Lafayette voters also approved a two-mill operation-and-maintenance property tax.

St. John the Baptist residents approved a parish-wide bond issue that included $800,000 for construction of the Garyville Branch Library. Lincoln Parish residents voted to give the library flexibility to choose a site for headquarters other than the one indicated in the $5-million bond issue passed in November 2000.

Rapides Parish voters rejected two measures that would have provided funding for maintenance and operations and capital projects. In a vote on taxes for Audubon Regional Library, the state’s only tri-parish system, residents approved maintenance-and-operations millages in West Feliciana, East Feliciana, and St. Helena but struck down proposed increases in the latter two parishes.

Maine. Voters rejected the York Library’s proposal to increase its budget to cover additional operating expenses for its newly opened building, which is about eight times the size of the old one. The requested increase would have doubled the current funding from taxpayers. Staff will now have to decide how to cover a $185,000 deficit in their operating costs.

Massachusetts. Over the course of the year, residents—in referenda and town hall meetings—approved library projects in East Longmeadow, Fairhaven, Leverett, Mattapoisett, Maynard, Milton, North Reading, Provincetown, and Yarmouth, and turned them down in Acushnet, Ashby, Rochester, Uxbridge, and Wilmington.

Additional funding approved by North Reading will enable the Flynn Memorial Library to add hours and retain residents’ borrowing privileges at neighboring libraries. The town budget approved in Braintree closed the town’s Watson Public Library branch at the end of October. Mary Haggan, a member of a committee commissioned to study the branch, said that tough economic times make it difficult to justify keeping it open one day a week.

Michigan. Residents of Fennville and three neighboring towns approved a millage for the Fennville District Library by a 1,241–1,097 vote; the proposal had previously been defeated in August, 616–689.

A third attempt to pass a tax increase for the Marshall District Library failed by 178 votes. Residents of Marshall supported the millage, but voters in the outlying townships opposed it.

Voters in Mentor, Nunda, and Wilmot townships narrowly defeated a proposal to fund a new building for the Wolverine Community Library, 356–346. However, a proposal to raise $8.5 million for a new library in Redford Township passed, as did a library renewal millage in Holly Township.

Missouri. In April, a five-cent tax levy passed that will enable Springfield–Greene County Library to add more books, technology, and hours and to build a new branch. However, a 10.6-cent tax-levy increase failed for the Trails Regional Library, headquartered in Warrensburg.

Voters approved a 1/8-cent sales-tax increase to pay for a $2.2-million expansion of the Webb City Public Library in August.

Montana. By an 18,402–14,926 vote, Billings residents rejected a proposal to spend $12 million to build a new home for the Parmly Billings Library. “It’s a shame,” said Friends President Ken Olsen. “It really is. We did everything we could do.” Olsen and other supporters tried in vain to convince voters that the existing building—originally built as a parts warehouse in 1955—is unsafe, inefficient, and overcrowded.

A $4-million bond issue for facilities expansion at Dawson Community College in Glendive passed by 320 votes. The project will expand the library, more than doubling its existing square footage, and build a new gym and performing arts center.

Beaverhead County voters approved a two-mill levy to support library services through the Dillon City Library by 1,610–1,502—the first time that county residents have approved a separate levy for the library.

Voters approved an increased mill levy to build an elevator at the Hearst Library in Anaconda, making the second floor of the 104-year-old building accessible.

Nevada. For a second time in two years Henderson residents decisively rejected a property-tax levy for library improvements and expansion, with 57% of voters opposed. “It’s hard to understand,” said Library Director Joan Kerschner. “We get surrounded by people saying they’re supporting us and voting for us. Then you see these results. I just think at this point people are not ready to spend more money for libraries.”

New Jersey. A last-minute judicial decision removed a proposal to let Vineland residents end their support of the Cumberland County Library from the November 4 ballot. New Jersey Superior Court Judge Michael Brook Fisher told the county board of elections October 28 to block the question until the court could decide whether Vineland can legally withdraw.

New Mexico. Bernalillo County voters approved all six bond questions put before them, including one providing $1 million for library materials, which passed 72.3–27.2%.

New York. In September, a $1-million levy for the East Greenbush Community Library passed easily by a 253–69 margin. The funds will allow the library to expand its hours and add materials.

A referendum in May for an additional $5,000 in funding for the Weller Library in Mohawk resulted in a 511–511 tie, which amounted to a rejection. However, charges have been filed alleging that the Mohawk school board president convinced unqualified voters to file absentee ballots in a successful attempt to defeat the library measure. The library commission filed a complaint with the police in August and asked the state election commission to overturn the vote; the request is under review.

Ohio. Grandview Heights voters passed a five-year, 2.5-mill library levy. If the measure had failed, the library would have had to close on Sundays and reduce weekday hours; now, however, it will double its number of Internet computers to 12 and provide self-checkout stations.

Voters defeated a 1-mill operating levy for the Southwest Public Libraries by 54–46%; the measure was the sixth straight system levy to fail. The three libraries that make up the system—Grove City Library, Westland Area Library, and Central Crossing Library—serve 23% of Franklin County. Southwest Director Frances Black said the libraries have seen an increase of more than 30,000 in their service population, which now exceeds 120,000, in the past decade.

Library measures were also defeated in Delta and in Wayne County, where a 60–40% rejection of a 2-mill continuing levy will block plans for a new downtown library as well as force cutbacks in existing services.

In May, Upper Arlington voters renewed an expiring library levy; Madison County residents passed a 1.2-mill operating levy for the London Public Library; and 66% of Centerville and Washington Township voters approved a new 2.7-mill levy that will fund the annual addition of 25,000 titles, new information technology, and the addition of Sunday hours.

Oregon. Multnomah County passed a five-year levy expected to raise $146 million for the library. The 55% yes vote was less than the measure received when put before voters in May; but since that election drew fewer than 50% of registered voters, the levy did not pass then. The funds will be used to restore Monday hours to the Central Library and four branches. Director Ginnie Cooper said that if the levy had failed, services would have been reduced further, hours and staff cut, and fewer materials purchased.

In May, Eugene voters passed a four-year, $19.6-million library levy with the required 50% turnout for a property-tax measure that Multnomah County lacked. The funding will help the city meet increased operating costs when the new downtown library opens in December or January.

Library measures for the Baker County Library District and the Warrenton Community Library passed. Levies failed in Hillsboro and Sheridan, and for the Tillamook County Library, Fern Ridge Library District, Josephine County Library, Lincoln County Library District, Umatilla County Special Library District, Washington County Cooperative Library Services, and Sweet Home Public Library.

Pennsylvania. Palmerton voters rejected a measure to establish a property tax to support libraries by 331–209. In 1992, the same measure was defeated by a 2–1 margin. Library Director Gerald Geiger said he wasn’t surprised. “We’re dealing with the same population,” he noted. “I expected the same outcome.”

North Apollo voted 254–142 to retain a .75-mill library tax they had approved in May 2001.

In May, The defeat of a referendum on library funding in Worthington indicated a clear lack of community concern: The tally was 2 votes to none.

Texas. Despite controversy over sex-education titles at the Montgomery County Public Library, voters passed a $10-million library bond issue. Although the margin of victory was narrow—the proposal won by only 51.9%—library Director Jerilyn Williams told the Conroe Courier that “2% is as good as 20%.” The funding will be used to construct three new facilities. The Montgomery County Republican Leadership Council led a campaign to have the titles removed from the collection. An opposing group, Mainstream Montgomery County, accused the RLC of trying to sabotage the bond issue.

In Elgin, residents authorized $1.8 million in bonds to build a new library by a 289–132 vote.

Among the three bond measures that failed in Georgetown was a proposal to expand the library, which drew only 48% of the vote.

Voters approved a $1-million request to renovate the Texarkana Public Library, as well as library districts for Timpson and Liberty Hill.

Washington. By a 2–1 margin, voters rejected an initiative by antitax crusaders to eliminate the Stevens County (Wash.) Rural Library District. Opponents objected to paying property taxes for services they don’t use—the seven-library network is funded by a 50-cent tax on every $1,000 of assessed property value—and the fact that the system is administered by unelected volunteers, the Seattle Times reported November 7.

Library Director Regan Robinson said her side won by convincing voters that the system’s 35,000-book collection and free Internet access were worth the tax. “There might be some unfair, too-high taxes out there, but this isn’t one of them,” she told the Times.

“The voters have spoken,” said initiative backer John Norling. “Maybe we didn’t get our message across, or maybe voters didn’t like our message. It’s a moot point now. We’re not going to pursue anything more.”

Posted November 19, 2002.