Despite COVID Concerns, Library Measures Do Well at Polls in 2020

While the nation is on tenterhooks waiting for votes to be tallied in the general election, a number of critical library ballot measures were decided on election day—and the wins far outnumbered the losses.

While the nation is on tenterhooks waiting for votes to be tallied in the general election, a number of critical library ballot measures were decided on election day—and the wins far outnumbered the losses.

Political Action Committee EveryLibrary released preliminary results from 37 local ballot measures and referenda on the morning of November 4. The number was significantly down from 50 measures in 2019 and 79 in 2018—likely a combination of libraries choosing not to put referenda up during a general election and concerns that voters may exhibit extra fiscal caution during the COVID-driven economic turndown.

Planning library campaigns during COVID, in the midst of a contentious national political battle, posed significant challenges, noted EveryLibrary Political Director Patrick Sweeney. “The campaigns would have been a lot more expensive and hard to navigate just to get above the noise of the presidential election,” he said.

For the libraries that did choose to run measures, however, a healthy 28 passed in 17 states, three failed, and at press time six were too early to call. These encompassed at least $728 million in bonds for new construction and renovation, with hundreds of millions more earmarked for collections, programs, and staffing.

“Despite the rancor around the presidential and congressional elections, voters in towns, cities, and counties—in both red states and blue states—support smart taxes for their local libraries,” said EveryLibrary Executive Director John Chrastka. “It is a testimony to how important libraries and librarians are that even during COVID voters want to see strong libraries and proper funding in place.”

 

FOR THE WIN

Oregon saw three major measures pass. Despite articles in local press predicting its defeat, Measure 26-211 for the Multnomah County Library was approved by more than 60 percent. The $387 million bond will finance renovations, repaid through a property tax of $61 per $100,000 of assessed value. The Deschutes Public Library District passed a $195 million construction bond by a sizeable margin, which will build a new Central Library, replace one branch, and renovate four. Eugene Public Library’s Measure 20-309 passed with 76 percent of the vote to renew the library’s $2.85 million operating budget.

Ohio demonstrated its customary strong support for libraries on ballots across the state, winning most of its 17 public library measures, with an average approval rating of 66 percent. Cuyahoga County saw the passage of a 1-mill tax increase, which will raise a $18 million per year for library operations—avoiding feared “significant” cuts to programming, building maintenance, and materials. Several renewal levy measures—for Brumback Library District, Wood County District Public Library, and Newcomerstown Public Library—passed with well over 70 percent of the vote. The state’s only clear loss was in Portage County, where voters rejected a proposal to establish a local levy for to supplement the Portage County District Library’s budget. A 1.276 mill, five-year renewal levy for the Huron County Community Library was still too close to call at press time.

West Virginia passed both its library measures. In Hampshire County, 75 percent of residents voted to re-establish a 1987 core funding tax that had failed to be renewed on the spring 2020 ballot. In Taylor County, more than 87 percent approved the renewal of the library’s operating levy, which covers about half of its budget.

In Prince George’s County, MD, voters overwhelmingly approved an act that will enable the county to borrow $28 million toward the construction and renovation of library facilities.

 

FALLING SHORT

There were a few notable fails. Antioch Public Library District, IL, was unable to pass a $9.6 million bond that would have paid for repairs and renovations to the existing library building, furnishing necessary equipment, and adding electronic data storage and retrieval facilities.

Woodstock, NY, was still waiting for an absentee ballot count at press time for the results of a long-debated measure to demolish and replace the existing library with a new building, which would have levied an additional real estate tax in the district to pay off financing that would not exceed $5.8 million. Shortly before the 2018 midterm elections, Woodstock residents had put a question on the ballot proposing to eliminate the library district and dissolve the board. That measure did not pass, and a new library may still not be in the town’s future; election night results showed the bond down by 78 votes.

And Castle Rock, WA, is still waiting to hear the final outcome of a levy needed to secure the library’s future. At press time it had received 58 percent of the votes—just shy of the 60 percent supermajority needed to pass the measure. The library has been using its budget reserve and donations for operating costs this year; if the levy does not pass, the city will have to look for alternate sources of funding or potentially close the library for good.

 

STATE SUPPORT

New Mexico’s statewide biennial General Obligation (GO) Bond for Libraries passed with 66 percent of the vote; this $9.7 million bond provides funding to public, academic, school, and tribal library operations and facilities.

In Arizona, voters passed Prop 208, the statewide Invest in Education Act, by a narrow margin. This money will help fund school librarians in the state; EveryLibrary partnered with the Arizona Library Association to support its coalition work on behalf of school libraries.

However, California’s Prop 15, which would raise anywhere from $10.3 billion to $12.6 billion annually for cities, counties, and schools—and would hold significant benefits for libraries if it were to pass—was still too close to call at press time, but was reportedly flagging, with no votes ahead by a small margin.

The show of support for libraries on election night was encouraging, noted Sweeney, but library advocates should not lose focus on the work that lies ahead. “While these results are great, it's important to remember that libraries are losing voter support across the country,” he told LJ . “We've seen a loss of about 14 percentage points of voter support, so we should still remain vigilant in our political work building voter support from the public.”

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Lisa Peet

lpeet@mediasourceinc.com

Lisa Peet is News Editor for Library Journal.

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Gene LaRudge

Where is the evidence that EveryLibrary has an impact on library issue votes? There is no polling before or after to support that they make any difference.

Posted : Nov 18, 2020 08:30


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