The Forest Park Public library board voted at its May meeting to support the efforts of a recently formed referendum committee to place a referendum on the Nov. 7 general election ballot.
The plan proposed by the committee calls for the library to seek an increase in its property tax funding from .234 percent of every hundred dollars of equalized assessed valuation (EAV) to .346 percent, a hike of just over 32 percent.
According to Library Director Rodger Brayden, the increase would allow the library to increase both its staff salaries and its circulation by 20 percent in the first year and then by smaller increments in subsequent years over the next decade while causing minimal impact to taxpayers.
The owner of a property with an EAV of $50,000, for example, currently pays $117 in taxes to the library each year. With the new rate, that person would pay $173 per year.
“Staff was asked what would you like to be able to do or what staff would you like to have that is not possible with the present tax receipts,” Brayden said. “A list was generated and projected over a 10-year period, as the normal shelf life of any referendum is about 10 years.”
The library depends on property tax revenue for about 90 percent of its budget, which will come in at just over $731,000 for the coming fiscal year. The remainder comes from a per-capita grant from the state and from late fees and video rentals.
The increase, according to Brayden, would give the library an average of about $311,000 per year in additional funding for the next decade.
In addition to the salary and circulation hikes, Brayden said, the library hopes to be able to replace its 40 staff and public computers twice over the next 10 years with the added funding.
“When it comes to PCs, they’re essentially disposable”in five years, a computer you bought new may cost more to upgrade than it does to replace,” he said.
The library also hopes to be able to change an assistant position in the children’s department and a clerk position in the technical service department from part-time to full-time.
The library’s last referendum was in 1993 and was intended to fund the construction of its current building at 7555 Jackson Blvd.
Now that the board has voted to approve the plan, the referendum committee will begin its work on the campaign to publicize the referendum.
The committee is chaired by library board member Karen Childs, and is made up of both library staff and citizens, though staff is legally prohibited from being compensated for their time advocating for the referendum or from using their positions with the library to bolster support.
“The first thing we’re really going to be doing is collecting signatures to place the referendum on the ballot,” said Childs.
The committee, according to Brayden, will need to collect 100 signatures by Aug. 31 to do so.
Childs said the committee will begin working on flyers and brochures in mid-summer, and hopes to host a silent auction to raise funds for future publicity work in August.
Though it will not be part of the referendum-related work, Brayden said the library also plans to host a meeting in the coming months to answer questions from the public regarding its budget and other operational matters.
Such a meeting was promised during a previous town-hall style meeting at the library, hosted by Mayor Anthony Calderone in November. Though much anger and frustration was expressed at that meeting concerning the state of the library and its financial affairs, mostly by members of the Friends of the Library organization, the Friends seem to have since put aside their grievances and united behind the referendum.
“As a practical matter, people may see those numbers and might feel more receptive to a referendum or maybe less receptive, but we’re not taking any steps to promote the referendum at the meeting. It will simply be in response to requests for information that we’ve received,” said Brayden.