Libraries Do Well at Polls, New Funding Lags

At least 50 libraries had referenda on the ballots on November 5. While results are still coming in, returns are in on some notable measures.

At least 50 libraries had referenda on the ballots on November 5. While results are still coming in, Returns are in on some notable measures. In a preliminary November 6 dispatch from library funding political action committee EveryLibrary, 30 of the 35 libraries where results were available passed their measures, 23 of which were for renewals and five for new dedicated funding measures, including two citywide General Obligation funds. The five that failed all involved new funding—which may be a foreshadowing of challenges ahead.



Colorado and Ohio libraries featured heavily at the polls. A notable win created the nation’s newest library district. With the Fort Lewis Mesa and Sunnyside libraries in danger of closing after declines in oil and gas tax revenue, residents banded together to form the Southwest La Plata County Library District through a 1.5 mill property tax, bundling together the district’s creation and the tax increase in one question that passed by a close margin: 52.1 to 47.9 percent. The district will begin collecting taxes in 2021; until then, it will take out a loan to keep the libraries open.

EveryLibrary supported La Plata County’s new district, as well as the measure for the Pine River Library District in Bayfield, CO. After Pine River lost in the 2018 midterms by only nine votes, library leadership re-evaluated the scope of the project, asking for a 1.5 mill levy increase rather than the 2 mill ncrease that failed, and redoubled its efforts—and saw success this year, with a 59 percent yes vote for a mill levy.

Three more EveryLibrary-supported Colorado libraries passed measures as well. The San Miguel Public Library District in Telluride saw 73 percent of voters in favor a .75 mill increase. The Pueblo City-County Library replaced an expiring mill levy, passing with 58 percent of the vote. And voters in the Eagle Valley Library District approved Ballot Question 6A, with 64 percent in favor. It overturned the Gallagher Amendment to the state constitution, which passed in 1982 and split property taxes between residential and non-residential property owners. This put a burden on rural Eagle County as the taxing percentage has declined, and the library faced future service and technology upgrade cuts. The ballot measure freezes the current tax percentage to avoid future revenue losses.

However, Anythink Libraries, in Adams County, CO, did not pass its measure. The margin was narrow, with 46% of the voters supporting a property tax increase, which would have increased the rate by 2.2 mills and significantly boosted the library’s annual budget. The strategic plan Anythink adopted last year called for adding branches and creating new technology and career programs; these are on hold for the time being, according to Anythink’s director of innovations and brand strategy Stacie Ledden.

“There may have been some anti-tax sentiments that worked against us,” Ledden told the Westminster Window. “We need to take some time now to listen to our community, talk with our advisors, stakeholders, and board, and make some decisions about what's next.”



As in previous years, Ohio libraries saw strong voter support; 28 of the 30 library measures that went to the polls passed, with an average voter approval rating of 72 percent. Successful ballot issues included two new levies, 22 renewals, two replacements, one renewal with an increase, and one replacement with an increase.

The wins were largely emphatic ones. Notable victories in Ohio included Athens County, where a 1.2 mill, five-year replacement and increase levy was approved 6,839–3,526. Miami County’s Milton-Union Public Library approved a 0.7 mill renewal levy with 75 percent of the vote. And the Granville Public Library, in Licking County, passed a five year, 1 mill renewal with 80.4 percent approval.

Ashtabula County District Public Library and Louisville Public Library in Stark County did not pass their levies, both by narrow margins of about 100 votes.

“It’s great to see voters from all over Ohio express their support for public libraries at the polls,” said Michelle Francis, Ohio Library Council executive director in a statement. “Yesterday’s election results make it very clear that Ohioans value their libraries and are willing to provide them with the financial resources necessary to serve their communities.”



As part of the library’s “Ready To Write A New Chapter” campaign, 68 percent of Flint, MI, voters said yes to a $12.6 million bond that will fund a complete renovation of the Flint Public Library, as well as approving the renewal of a 2 mill operating budget with a 75 percent yes vote. The library’s renovation will run to an estimated $27.6 million, $15 million of which has been raised through private donors.

Also in Michigan, EveryLibrary supported the Portage Area District Library on its first new mill levy since 1992, which passed with nearly 60 percent of voters.

The Rice Public Library in Kittery, ME, got a green light to proceed with a $5 million renovation and expansion after the project bond referendum was approved 1719–582; the revamped library is projected to reopen by late fall 2021.

In New York state, the town of Gardiner approved an increase in its annual contribution to the Gardiner Library’s operating budget by nearly $47,000 with a healthy 70 percent yes vote.

In New Jersey, as libraries still await funds from 2017’s $125 million state bond issue, 73 percent of Mahwah voters approved a ten-year dedicated property tax increase—the first it has asked residents to authorize in its 117 years of operation.

In Idaho, a proposition passed requiring voter approval before the city of Boise can undertake high-ticket library projects, with expected costs of $25,000,000 or more, with 69 percent of the vote. (An $85 million library project was placed on hold in August when cost estimates went $20 million over the city’s budget.)

It was touch and go for Castle Rock, WA, which fell just short of the 60 percent supermajority to pass its levy. In Union Gap, WA, a levy that would allow the Yakima Valley Libraries district to annex a proposed library succeeded with nearly 62 percent of voter approval.

While this year’s elections saw more wins than losses for libraries overall, “the big take away was that the 'new money' campaigns were a lot softer than the renewals,” EveryLibrary executive director John Chrastka told LJ. “And if we can't win new money, then we stagnate.”

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Lisa Peet

Lisa Peet is News Editor for Library Journal.

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