Library Referenda 2010 | Vote of ConfidenceDespite tough antitax sentiment, libraries win 87% of operating and 55% of building referenda
Apr 1, 2011
Amid a bitter political climate, punctuated by the rise of a virulent antitax group, voters overwhelmingly entrusted their libraries with their tax dollars in referenda held between December 1, 2009, and November 30, 2010. Operating revenue measures passed at a spectacular rate of 87%—up slightly from last year’s 84% and continuing a ten-year upswing. Building referenda held steady, with 55% of measures passing, similar to the 2009 figure, but the average size of the projects, $9,037,308, rose measurably from last year’s average of $4,102,000.
Notable winners of operating referenda include the Baldwinsville Public Library, NY, where the operating levy passed by 89%. In Montana, the North Lake County Public Library District was established through the passage of an operating levy that Director Marilyn Trosper says will “stabilize our library’s patchwork system of funding and provide secure library services into the future.” In Damascus, OR, a group of hardworking citizens on a shoestring budget led a campaign to get the city to fund membership in the Library District of Clackamus County. It passed, restoring library service to the community—the first since 2008.
Bigger building requests did well in 2010. In 2009, the largest building measure was $17 million for the Snake River School District and Community Library in Blackfoot, ID, while in 2010, the Forsyth County Public Library in Winston-Salem, NC, was awarded $40 million for a major project that will replace several branches. In Lawrence, KS, a successful $18 million building measure will renovate and expand the Lawrence Public Library, and the Deerfield Public Library, IL, was awarded just short of $12 million to upgrade its 40-year-old central facility.
These wins and the overall high passage rate are cold comfort for those libraries whose measures went down to defeat…and there were some crushing losses. In Michigan, the Troy Public Library’s operating levy was defeated by fewer than 700 votes, allocating the library no funding at all. The library’s last day of service is May 1, leaving this Detroit suburb of 80,000 with a Neiman-Marcus and a Saks department store but no public library.
A few counties over, TEA Party activists mounted a campaign against Hartland’s popular Cromaine District Library (CDL), contributing to the defeat of CDL’s building referendum (its operating levy passed). The TEA Party’s impact may be even more widespread: the first two-thirds of the year (through August 2010) saw more successful ballots. Pass rates for operating measures slipped from 93%–94% in the January–August time period to 80% in the September–December time period, just as the antitax group was getting the most media coverage.
Michigan is at the bottom of this chart - Troy is among very few LOSERS.