Vote Yes – Here’s what will happen
November 1, 2018
The uncertainty around what will happen if Yes prevails on the library referendum has lifted. Town Supervisor Bill McKenna says publicly that the Town Board will support rechartering our library as a municipal library. The Mid-Hudson Library System says they’ll help us and support us in obtaining a new charter as a municipal library.
That means the library stays open if Yes prevails. What else will happen?
Veterans and seniors will see the tax exemptions they qualify for applied to the library portion of their taxes. That’s not true today under the district library model. In Woodstock, approximately 1,325 taxpayers qualify for an exemption, or roughly 23 percent of the population.
The Board of Trustees has increased our library tax 3.4 percent per year for the last 20 years, on average. Even when the spending goes down, as it did 5 percent in 2017, the tax goes up, 3 percent that year. When the voters reject a tax increase, as they did in 2007 and 2008, the tax stays the same. That’s the ratchet effect of the library tax, built into law. So the tax held steady for two years until the trustees lobbied in 2009 to get 601 voters to support them and pass a 10 percent tax increase. So after two consecutive years of voter dissatisfaction, the 3+ percent annual tax increase was back on track. Voting YES on November 6 to dissolve the district puts an end to the ratchet tax.
Some like to talk about “voting rights.” Equally important is voter representation. I showed above how mobilizing 601 people in 2009 was all it took to pass a large tax increase.
The trustee elections suffer in the same way from low voter participation. Many libraries, such as Poughkeepsie and Beekman, hold their elections along with the general election in November. But the Woodstock Library holds its elections in the first week of September, around Labor Day, the third day of school this year. In 2017, when voter turnout was just 316, three trustees were elected unopposed. By contrast, the general election that year brought 2,080 voters to the polls. The “voting rights” so revered in the library district elections don’t translate into true representation. Woodstockers would be better served by perhaps five or seven trustees vetted and appointed by the Town Board. There are more than 200 municipal libraries in New York State operating that way. Our district model is the outlier – only 7 percent of libraries operate under that system, and no more are being created.
The trustees approved a voucher for $9,100 at their last board meeting, a new expense for “review of audit.” It exceeds the just-approved tax increase ($8,676) we were told was for opening the library an additional day each week. After paying $12,000 last year for a library audit, was it wise to hire the same firm this year to review their audit for an additional $9,100?
Surely the library would benefit from consolidating services with the Town of Woodstock. Accounting is only the beginning. The Town already maintains many properties and could absorb the needs of the library without problem. Money would be saved on maintenance, legal and engineering expenses, and the highway department would maintain the parking. Consolidation is encouraged by New York State. The benefits of consolidation are self-evident.
To many, this referendum is about the building. It’s a vote of no confidence in the trustees’ 12-year history of failing to maintain the facilities – the poor air quality, the rain gushing in through closed windows, the barriers to those with disabilities, the scarcity of electrical outlets, the list goes on. Many people disagree with the January 18 decision to scrap it all and build something new for $5 million. Our master plan detailed the problems and gave a reasonable price for fixing them.
The building decision ties into the points above – taxes, voter representation and consolidation. Taxes would surely double if a 15,000 square foot building were built. Recall that the 2007 building proposal began with a 160 percent tax increase, and the voters rejected it 5 to 1. Last year, the voters spoke through the survey in numbers far exceeding turnouts at library elections – only 29 percent in the survey favored building new. Voter representation is not evident in the January 18 teardown proposal. Finally, consolidation with the Town of Woodstock – the sharing of facilities – makes the 15,000 square foot proposal superfluous. The five classrooms and large event spaces the trustees want didn’t come from voter demand. In fact, the trustees had to scrape for names to include in their full page ad this week – I know of nonresidents who know nothing of the building or the referendum, but gladly offered their names to a friend.
If the referendum passes, the voters have every right to expect our Town Board to provide the oversight needed to move our library forward. They’ve expressed their willingness to do that – what’s left is for the voters to give a resounding Yes on the November 6 library referendum.