Referenda Roundup, 2004: Good News for Many Libraries

Although there were some dramatic failures and near misses, voters in many communities throughout the United States showed strong support November 2 for local library budget increases and building projects.

Two notable successes were in Stark County, Ohio, and Fargo, North Dakota. The Stark County District Library in Canton won its bid to pass a one-mill tax levy, after earlier measures failed in March 2004 and November 2003. Failure this time would have required the library to close at least two branches, lay off as many as 50 employees, drastically reduce public-service hours, and drop two of its four bookmobiles. The tax, passed by a 57% vote, will generate $4.7 million annually for five years, allowing the library to return services to a level it could not provide after state funding was cut by $800,000 in 2001.

SCDL Board President Shawn O’Brien said in the November 4 Canton Repository that voters will expect more from the library and “we have to show them that we made the right move.” Library volunteers and staff were strongly committed to the campaign to help the levy succeed, he said, adding that the district spent $70,000 on advertising.

Fargo residents approved by 62% an increase in the city sales tax from 6.0% to 6.5% for 18 months in support of two major library projects. About $9 million of the projected $12 million in revenues will go toward a new, 45,000-square-foot downtown library, while the remaining $3 million will help expand the Southpointe branch, which opened in a strip mall in 2002 (AL, Oct. 2002, p. 20). Officials are looking at a former middle school as a potential location for a new 22,000-square-foot facility. For an account of the library’s efforts to get out the vote, see Grassroots Report, AL, Jan. 2005, p. 79.

Salinas will try once again

The Friends of the Salinas (Calif.) Public Library have pledged to ask the city council for another attempt to raise a special ballot in the spring to raise enough money to sustain library services, the Salinas Californian reported November 22. The failure of two funding measures in November virtually ensured that the city’s three library branches will close sometime before July 1. Friends President Lynne Steele said at a November 20 meeting that she was committed to “work to open them and open them as soon as possible.” Lauren Cercone, book sale coordinator for the Friends group, told the Californian that deciding to keep only one library open would divide the community when residents need to unite to save them all.

Gerald Oehler, president of a Salinas medical group, attended the meeting and declared, “A town without a library is a town without a conscience. It’s an embarrassing situation.” The Salinas city council would have to declare an emergency to put tax measures back on the ballot in time for the next elections in March, because state law forbids putting the same measure up for vote in less than one year without such a step.

American Libraries’ state-by-state roundup of library referenda and other local ballot measures throughout the year is based on reports from online news sources and state library agencies.

ALASKA. Residents of Homer approved by 63% a proposition October 5 that allows the city council to take out a low-interest loan of up to $2.2 million to construct and equip a new public library. Fundraisers have already generated more than half the total project goal of $7.7 million.

In April, voters turned down by 58% a proposition to construct new buildings for the Girdwood, Muldoon, and Chugiak/Eagle River branches in the Anchorage area. The measure would also have upgraded technology at the Z. J. Loussac Library downtown.

ARIZONA. Voters passed by 56% a proposition that makes it a crime for public employees to provide services to undocumented immigrants. Conceivably, library workers would be required to ask for proof of citizenship before providing services or even access to collections. Although Attorney General Terry Goddard ruled November 12 that the measure applies only to welfare recipients, specific interpretations of the measure could be decided in state courts.

Pima County residents approved by 62% a bond question May 18 to spend $12.6 million for a new facility for the Marana branch of the Tucson-Pima Public Library, an expansion of the Oro Valley branch, and a replacement for the Wilmot branch in Tucson.

ARKANSAS. Little Rock voters August 17 approved by an overwhelming 87% a bond refinance program for the Central Arkansas Library System. The proposal will net almost $13 million over the next seven years for new books and videos, upgraded internet capabilities, and the expansion of a historic building that will house the Center for Arkansas History and Genealogy. Support for the measure was generated by the Coalition for Neighborhood Libraries, a citizens’ group that raised money for the special election.

CALIFORNIA. Some 72% of voters in Sacramento said yes to Measure X, a 10-year extension of a parcel tax that funds the city’s 10 public libraries. San Jose voters approved by 67% Measure S, a 10-year parcel tax to replace the city’s annual library assessment, preventing annual cuts of $6.2 million that would have reduced San Jose Public Library System services.

Other November public library winners included: the Altadena Public Library District, which regained a 10-year parcel tax it had lost in 1993; Blanchard Community Library in Santa Paula, where voters extended a temporary spending-limit increase for another four years by 72%, adding to a $15 parcel-tax measure passed in March; El Dorado County Library, which will get more tax from apartment-building owners; Fresno County Library, where residents voted to renew the current library assessment; and South San Francisco Public Library, which will see increased revenue from a hotel tax.

Voters in the Yosemite Community College District approved Measure E by 62%, permitting Modesto Junior College to get a new library.

One notable November ballot failure was sustained in Berkeley, where the electorate nixed a change in the city’s funding formula that would have hiked property taxes to reopen the Berkeley central library on Sundays and restore hours lost in March (AL, Apr. 2004, p. 16). BPL Director Jackie Griffin said in the November 30 Berkeley Daily Planet that further reductions in hours were likely next summer.

San Diego County Public Library’s Lemon Grove branch will have to remain in a strip mall at the edge of town. Votes for a new downtown library and conference center fell 4% short of the two-thirds needed for passage. Because of a $3.8-million state grant in 2002 and local donations, the city already had more than half the money in place for the $8-million project.

Other November losses included: Contra Costa County Library’s Martinez branch, which would have seen a renovation if Measure O had passed; Humboldt County Library in Eureka, where voters refused a 1% sales-tax increase that would have prevented some branch closings; and San Luis Obispo City-County Library, which would have gotten a much-needed funding boost from a one-quarter-percent sales-tax increase.

School districts generally fared well, with library funding specified in measures passed in Port Hueneme, Belmont, Oakley, Livermore, South Whittier, Mill Valley, Burlingame, the Alum Rock school district in San Jose, and the San Ramon Valley district (in April). However, voters in Petaluma rejected Measure K, a four-year parcel tax that would have kept junior-high and high-school libraries open; and an eight-year tax extension in Novato failed by just 188 votes, making librarian and teacher layoffs likely unless a similar measure passes in March.

West Contra Costa County residents passed a much-needed parcel tax June 8 to save the school district’s libraries, athletic programs, and the jobs of numerous counselors, teachers, and custodians threatened with layoffs after the failure of an earlier bailout measure in March (AL, Aug. 2004, p. 20).

In March, residents of Oakland voted to restore funds to the city library system by increasing a $36 parcel tax to $75 per year. The increase was needed to keep the main branch open seven days a week, expand branch hours to six days a week, and restore and increase the library’s materials budget. Voters in Stanislaus County approved an eight-year extension to a one-eighth-cent sales tax that provides 75% of the county library’s budget.

The Santa Clara County Library System was not as fortunate and could lose as much as $5.3 million next June when a benefit-assessment tax sunsets. Branches began closing Mondays beginning October 11 due to the failure of a property-tax measure March 2 that would have replaced the expiring funds. Ten incorporated cities in Los Angeles County also failed to pass parcel taxes supporting libraries in March.

COLORADO. Pitkin County voters approved a property tax increase that will add $385,000 to the library’s operating budget and enable the installation of an RFID-tagging system. In Montrose, where 54% approved a mill-levy increase, additional funds will be used to replace depleted trust funds and expand hours and staff. Fremont County voters approved an initiative to create a new library district, and citizens of Basalt overwhelmingly supported a tax hike that will nearly double the funding for the Basalt Regional Library. Cortez Public Library was also hoping to double its operating budget, but voters defeated by 51% a measure to establish it as a regional library authority.

Mesa County residents rejected a bond issue for a new 75,000-square-foot library by a margin of 851 votes and a mill-levy increase for maintenance projects by only 877 votes. A proposal for a more expensive new library was voted down in 2003. Trustee President Sally Matchett told the Grand Junction Sentinel, the outcome “makes me wonder if there is simply a narrow majority of people in this valley who do not care what kind of library we have.”

CONNECTICUT. Wethersfield residents approved by 57% a referendum to spend $5.2 million on the renovation of the combination town hall-library building, built in 1958. Willington voters passed a $3-million bond measure March 30 for construction of a new library, while the Town of Goshen allocated $15,000 for library expansion in May.

FLORIDA. Miami-Dade County voters approved a $2.9-billion Building Better Communities bond program that will set aside $52 million for the construction of three new branches and the renovation of existing ones. The bonds will enhance Miami-Dade Public Library’s 2001 Capital Plan, which has already called for the construction of seven new facilities.

In August, Pace residents opposed a $2.7-million tax proposal for a 13,000-square-foot library built on donated property, while Union County Public Library saw its request for a one-half mill levy approved by 80%. Delray Beach voters passed a referendum January 20 to provide $1 million in furnishings and equipment to the city’s new public library.

GEORGIA. Rockdale County approved a $99.6-million special-purpose, local-option sales tax (SPLOST) that will provide $5.7 million over six years for renovation and expansion of the Nancy Guinn Memorial Library in Conyers and an additional $1 million for books. A similar measure had failed in 2003.

Other passing SPLOST measures included $8.2 million for renovation to the Athens Regional Library System’s headquarters library, $9 million for two new branches of the Cherokee Regional Library System, $6 million for a new branch and renovations to other branches of the Dougherty County Public Library, $4 million for a 20,000-square-foot building for the Hall County Library System, and $13.8 million for various projects benefiting the Gwinnett County Public Library.

IDAHO. Some 83% of Garden City voters said yes to an $860,000 bond measure that will be used to complete the interior of a library begun in January in the new city hall. A $1.5-million bond measure for the Mountain Home Public Library passed in August, while Camas County approved an increased levy for annual library operations in May. A last-minute boundary change caused the establishment of the Emmett Valley Library District to fail, though voters will get another chance in February.

ILLINOIS. Deerfield Public Library’s ambitious dreams for a new library designed by Los Angeles architect Frank Gehry (AL, Oct. 2004, p. 19) ended with a crash as voters soundly rejected by 69% a $25-million, nonbinding referendum to gauge interest in the project. “I think the library staff has just provided such excellent service that the community hasn’t really felt the limitations of our current building,” board member Ron Simon said in the November 4 Chicago Tribune.

Barrington voters nixed a $28-million bond for library repair and expansion, but Sugar Grove residents decided to support a new $8-million building. A proposition to issue $9.3 million in bonds to help construct a new building for the LaGrange Public Library passed by 60%, and a referendum to expand the Yorkville Public Library was overwhelmingly approved. In March, Carol Stream and Lombard voters rejected plans for new facilities.

Measures to increase library tax rates generally did poorly in November, with issues failing in Bensenville, Elburn, Homer Township, Lemont, Markham, Royalton, Sugar Grove, and Summit. Libraries in some of these districts are contemplating service cuts in order to make ends meet. Tax increases did pass in Brookfield, Palos Hills, Prospect Heights, and Wood Dale. In March, library-tax hikes succeeded in Mokena and Alsip-Merrionette Park, but failed in New Lenox and Homer Township.

IOWA. Harlan residents approved by 54% a tax levy that will raise an additional $23,705 annually for the public library.

KANSAS. Basehor citizens rejected a $3.8-million bond issue in April that would have financed a new library, while a tax increase that would have added three new library branches over the next 12 years failed in Olathe in March by only a 4% margin.

LOUISIANA. Voters handily passed 12 out of 13 tax issues in the state, with the one failure in March—Webster Parish Library—redeemed in November with approval of a millage rate that will generate $1.3 million annually for new materials and renovations to the historic main library in Minden. New Orleans voters approved a citywide bond issue, $8.1 million of which will be dedicated to capital improvements for library branches. A new St. Mary Parish Library millage will generate $1.9 million for branch renovation and replacement over the next 20 years.

MAINE. A tax-cap proposition similar to California’s Proposition 13 was rejected by 63% of Maine voters, allowing libraries to breathe a temporary sigh of relief. The cap would have limited property taxes to 1% of a property’s value, possibly forcing many libraries to close or begin charging fees for library cards. Anne Davis, past president of the Maine Library Association, told reporters that the state didn’t have the money to make up the difference if towns were forced to cut funding. However, Carol Palesky, the tax activist who sponsored the cap, has vowed to come back in 2005 or 2006 with a proposal for a 1.5% tax cap.

Portland voters authorized the city to borrow $4 million to help fund a planned $8.5-million renovation of the library’s main branch, its first fix-up since it was built in 1979. Boothbay and Boothbay Harbor both defeated bond issues to fund expansion and remodeling of the public library that serves the two communities.

For the fourth year in a row, York voters in May turned down a measure to raise the library’s bare-bones budget by $130,000.

MARYLAND. Prince George’s County voters solidly passed by 88% a $14.5-million bond issue that will result in the renovation and construction of library branches. Baltimore County’s Pikesville branch library will double its floor space, thanks to a bond issue that will enable the city’s senior center housed on the library’s second floor to move elsewhere.

MASSACHUSETTS. Winchester voters rejected a tax-cap override December 7 that would have allowed the town to pay for five elementary-school librarians and Sunday hours for the public library. A similar override in Franklin failed in November, forcing the town to consider keeping the library open only three days a week or closing it entirely. Voters in Edgartown agreed in September to borrow $3.5 million to purchase a house adjacent to the library for expansion, and Georgetown, Dennisport, and Merrimac residents passed measures to allow construction and operational funding for their libraries in May.

MICHIGAN. Detroiters resoundingly voted yes to increased support for the Detroit Public Library. Proposal L, a renewal of DPL’s existing three mills for another 10 years, was approved by a majority of 76% and Proposal M, which adds another mill for the same duration, got the nod from 63% of voters. The additional mill will help make up for a $6-million loss in state funding and provide enhanced technology resources and increased services to seniors and youth.

Libraries won in two out of three districts in Oakland County: Walled Lake and Commerce Township voted in favor of library millages, but Lyon Township defeated a 30-year, two-mill tax to pay for construction of a new facility. In Washtenaw County, voters favored renewing a one-mill property tax that will ensure consistent funding for the Manchester District Library over the next 10 years.

In Macomb County, voters in Harrison Township rejected a one-mill proposal to build a library, while Ray Township residents decided not to join the Suburban Library Cooperative for a mere .3-mill tax. A solid 62% of Muskegon County citizens voted not to override a tax cap, resulting in a library budget cut of as much as $885,000. Elsewhere, voters passed millages in Beaver Island, Marshall, Millington, and Sebewaing, and rejected them in Bridgeport, Hastings, and Wolverine.

Ypsilanti residents who failed to convince the district library to install filters last summer scored a victory by ousting two antifilter board members and voting in three new trustees who are in favor of internet filtering.

In August, voters favored library bond issues in Alma, Alpena, Bloomfield Township, Boyne City, Briggs, Corunna, Crawford County, DeWitt, Ferndale, Iosco County, Monroe County, Rose City, and Sumpter Township, and rejected them in Kent County. A June round of proposals saw library measures pass in Cheboygan and Charlevoix and fail in Lexington and Pigeon. An $8.2-million bond issue to build a new library on the site of the McKune Memorial Library in Chelsea passed in May by a mere 72 votes, 1,327–1,255.

Grand Haven residents in April soundly defeated by 65% a $9.8-million bond proposal to help build a new home for the Loutit District Library. In March, voters in Cass County agreed to increase the millage for the Dowagiac District Library.

MISSOURI. The Kirkwood Public Library lost out in August when voters turned down its two requests for a 9-cent operating levy increase and a $16-million bond issue to fund construction of a new building. In April, Atchison County Library won its first tax-levy increase in 22 years, which will bring it an additional $78,000 annually in operating funds.

MONTANA. In April, 62% of Hill County voters said yes to renew a tax for the Havre-Hill County Library that will offset annual state and local funding shortages of about $72,000.

NEBRASKA. Lexington residents in January 2004 approved a $1.5-million bond issue that will finance a new library twice the size of the current facility.

NEVADA. Tax levies in Pahrump and Elko County failed. In September, Douglas County voters turned down a tax-hike measure that would have built a new branch near Stateline.

NEW JERSEY. Boonton residents approved a $5-million referendum to build a 16,000-square-foot library on a tract of land owned by the New Jersey Fireman’s Home, which will lease the land to the town for $1 for 35 years.

NEW MEXICO. Voters approved by 58% a statewide general obligation bond providing $16.3 million to enhance collections and equipment in public, school, and publicly funded academic libraries. The funds for this bond issue will become available on July 1 and can be spent through June 30, 2007. School library funds will be disbursed by the Department of Public Education, public library funds by the Department of Cultural Affairs through the New Mexico State Library, and the academic funds by the Commission on Higher Education.

Bernalillo County residents approved a $1.5-million bond issue for library books and other resources. In March, Rio Rancho voters approved a $5.5-million referendum to build a 32,000-square-foot main library that could open as early as January 2006.

NEW YORK. Although it passed by 2,133 votes, a special referendum to create a special tax district and add $300,000 to the Broome County budget to help the financially ailing libraries in Endicott and Johnson City has been held up by a lawsuit filed November 23 by an absentee voter. Robert H. Corwin charged that the vote should be voided because the question was not on the ballots of absentee voters, although it was on machine ballots in polling places, the November 24 Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin reported. The referendum was first questioned in September when a state Supreme Court justice ruled that New York law prevented the creation of a special district. But the Appellate Division reversed the decision, allowing county election officials to add the question to the ballot, but not before some 2,000 absentee ballots had been mailed out.

In other fall elections, voters approved a new library-tax district in Athens, increased library funding in Beekman, and bonds for new buildings in Waterville and Clifton Park. Proposals for expanded facilities in Lyons and Spring Valley were defeated.

Port Ewen residents rejected a tax increase for the Esopus Library in June, and in January voters in Elmont chose to construct a new facility on the grounds of a former junior high school.

NORTH CAROLINA. Lenoir County citizens solidly supported a $2.6-million bond issue to add 10,000 square feet to the 20-year-old Kinston–Lenoir County Library.

OHIO. In addition to Stark County’s successful levy (see above), tax measures also passed in Fairfield County, Kingsville, and Williams County. The Fairfield County levy, which voters had rejected in March, will allow the bookmobile to return to rural areas and three branches to restore their hours. A 1.3-mill library levy in Barberton failed by 327 votes.

In August, residents approved millages in Monroe and Lorain counties, and in March tax levies passed in nine out of 15 districts—Akron, Archbold, Cuyahoga County, Dayton, Elyria, Fairport Harbor, Marysville, Perrysburg, and Willoughby-Eastlake.

OKLAHOMA. Tulsa residents rejected a $79.1-million bond measure December 14 that would have funded a new, 200,000-square-foot central library and improvements to all 23 branches.

OREGON. Although Oregonians passed seven out of 13 library measures in November, only six will be put into operation. The weak link is the city of Tualatin, which passed by 53% a 20-year, $8-million general obligation bond to finance construction work that would double the library’s size. However, residents voted down by 56% a measure to pay for its operating costs. City Councilman Mike Gillespie suspected the discrepancy came about because voters were miffed that the bond issue also included dollars for adding artificial turf to the high-school athletic fields. “Everyone saw that as a big chunk of pork,” he said in the November 4 Portland Oregonian. City officials will not commit to expand the library until they can find money to pay for its operation.

Voters in the capital defeated by 59% a measure to create a tax district for the entire Salem area, allowing costs for the city library to be spread over a wider territory. The new district would have been funded by a new property tax of 62 cents per $1,000 assessed value. The Salem Statesman-Journal noted that passage was hampered by a vigorous antitax e-mail campaign that surfaced a few weeks before the vote.

Another failed measure was a proposal to build a new $25.5-million, 60,000-square-foot library in Hillsboro, which lost by only 72 votes. The city requested a manual recount that took place December 7, but the net gain was only seven votes.

Clackamas County residents defeated a $43-million levy that would have kept library branches at their current service levels and offset a planned cut in county funding. Library officials estimate that branches will have to reduce hours and some employees will be let go. Bond measures in Albany and Cornelius also failed, as did an operating levy in Forest Grove.

Library successes were noted in Douglas County, where the Sutherlin branch will get some money for expansion; Estacada, which authorized a $1.9-million bond to build a new library; and Creswell, Lincoln County, and Veneta, where voters approved tax measures.

PENNSYLVANIA. Two townships in Wayne County responded differently to the same referendum—whether to support a tax increase for a new library in Hamlin. Lake Township residents voted yes, but Salem Township voters (where Hamlin is located) voted no. More than two years of fundraising by the Salem Public Library capital campaign committee has collected over half the projected cost of $750,000; the tax was to fund the remainder. Several weeks after the election there was still uncertainty about how to resolve the issue.

In Westmoreland County, Rostraver Township voters defeated a library tax to support operating expenses and buy new equipment for a new facility scheduled to be built in 2005.

RHODE ISLAND. Voters in Burrillville approved a $5-million bond to construct a new 24,000-square-foot library to replace the much smaller Jesse M. Smith Memorial Library.

Smithfield residents passed a $1.5-million measure to buy land to house a school and a new home for the Greenville Public Library, but they rejected a $10.7-million bond that would have financed the library’s construction. Citizens’ groups and supporters of the East Smithfield Public Library (located in the same township) actively opposed the bond and distributed a flyer saying their library would be forced to close if the measure passed.

SOUTH CAROLINA. Sumter voters approved a $6-million bond measure in August that will help expand the city’s downtown library and its Westmark branch.

TEXAS. Rockwall County residents handily passed an $11.5-million bond measure to build a 52,000-square-foot library on land acquired in 2000. Georgetown and Corpus Christi also approved bond issues for new libraries.

In May, 80% of Garland voters said yes to $9.4 million in general obligation bonds for new library materials and renovations. Lubbock approved a $2.4-million measure to renovate the interior of the 30-year-old central library’s public-service areas. Travis County residents gave the go-ahead for the creation of a Lake Travis Community Library District funded by a sales tax for a new library.

In February elections, Fort Worth voters approved the construction of a $4.5-million Northwest Fort Worth branch that will expand to a regional library at a future date. Mansfield voted yes for a $1.5-million expansion of its library to create space for children’s services and computers.

UTAH. Voters rejected bond measures in November to construct new libraries in Kaysville and Richfield, but Grand County residents passed by 71% a $2.5-million bond in February for a new library in Moab.

VIRGINIA. Fairfax County will get two new branches in Burke and Oakton, thanks to a $52.5-million bond issue approved by 71% of voters—the highest percentage in the history of Fairfax County referenda. The funds will also provide for renovations to the Thomas Jefferson Library in Falls Church, the Dolley Madison Library in McLean, the Richard Byrd Library in Springfield, and the Martha Washington Library in Alexandria.

Chesterfield County voters also passed a $35.6-million bond for two new branches, the expansion and renovation of three existing branches, and technology upgrades.

WASHINGTON. Stanwood and Camano Island residents once again failed to get enough votes to build a new $9-million, 20,000-square-foot branch library, coming up short of a supermajority with only 56% saying yes. The bond issue also missed passing in September by only 27 votes. Now that the measure has failed twice, the newly formed district for the two communities in the Sno-Isle Regional Library System will dissolve.

The Whitman County Rural Library District successfully annexed the Tekoa and Palouse areas with 83% and 81% of the residents voting yes respectively. Library tax levies passed in Endicott and Castle Rock.

Residents of the affluent Yarrow Point community declined to rejoin the King County Library System by saying no to a tax that would have cost property owners 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation. The area has not been a part of the library district since 1993 and has resisted annexation on four other occasions.

King County voters passed by some 64% a $172-million bond measure in September for library construction and maintenance. The funds will be used to build new branches in Kent’s East Hill area, Newcastle, and Snoqualmie Ridge, and larger facilities will replace existing branches in several communities. The money will also go toward maintenance, expanded library collections, and other capital projects, such as more parking at the Redmond Regional Library. A similar bond issue failed to attain a 60% supermajority in February 2003, although it received a 52% yes vote.

In March, a $48-million bond issue in Vancouver fell 5% short of a supermajority, defeating a proposal to renovate the main library downtown and build a new branch on the east side of Cascade Park.

WISCONSIN. Nearly 60% of the voters in Newbold said they wanted to continue funding the Rhinelander District Library through the library district instead of the county system. The referendum was triggered by a town board decision to leave the Rhinelander Library District at the end of 2004 because members felt it paid too much to participate. The library’s Friends group lobbied vigorously for the measure.

Edgerton voters approved a referendum in June that authorizes the city to borrow $2.5 million to renovate and expand its 97-year-old library.

In April, Pewaukee city voters were asked in an advisory referendum whether they would support a joint city-village library that would replace the current crowded library housed in a former church with a more spacious facility in the village’s downtown. Some 58% were in favor of the project and 52% said they would pay a tax to support it.

—George M. Eberhart