Ellsworth family members (left to right): Kara, 10. Trevor, 9, and mother Peggy Ellsworth check out books from Warrrensburg's Richards Library, with the help of librarian Barbara Whitford.
Facing a financial squeeze while continuing to provide services for the region, Richards Library is seeking public funding through a regional tax levy.
For more than a century, Richards Library has been operating on the interest from its original endowment.
But in the last 30 years, it has been spending a portion of its endowment for operations, as heating fuel and other costs have soared, while the library’s income from the endowment decreased. it has been estimated that if the library were to continue spending down its endowment, it would last only 12 years or so.
Also, the library’s new wing, built several years ago with private donations and grant money, has never been completed. The expansion project, originally budgeted at $500,000 was put on hold when the project cost increased beyond the ability of the library board to fund the remaining work without a burden on the library’s operating budget. Already, $600,000 has been spent on the expansion project, and completing the work is estimated to cost about $600,000, including providing needed furniture, computers and information technology equipment.
So the library board has proposed, as provided for in state law, to establish a $98,100 tax levy on the residents within the Warrensburg School District, which is virtually identical to their service area. A vote on the levy is now set for May, when the Warrensburg school budget goes up for a vote.
Although the amount would, if approved, be listed as a separate charge on the school tax bill, it is not a part of the school taxes. It is a separate levy allowed by state law, particularly for private libraries like Richards Library, that serve the public.
Library officials have estimated that this levy would cost 19 cents per thousand of assessed valuation on property owners’ tax bills.
This annual levy would stay in place permanently — and the amount would stay the same — until the library decided it needed more and thus would have to go back for another public vote.
The Warrensburg Central School District, with about 6,000 residents, includes Warrensburg, Thurman, and small portions of bordering towns including Lake George, Bolton, Stony Creek and Chester.
Richards Library board vice president Paul Gilchrist said that the 19 cents was “infinitesimal” compared to the Warrensburg School District tax rate, yet the proposed levy would allow Richards Library to not only continue to provide its traditional services, but expand them, while allowing the board to use the endowment to finish the stalled addition project. he noted that the school budget is $18.8 million of which about $7.8 million is raised through local taxes, which dwarfs the $98,100 the library is asking for.
He noted that other town’s libraries enjoy far more generous public support.
Richards Library now receives $25,000 from the Warrensburg town government, and $2,000 from Thurman. He said these annual municipal stipends would likely cease if the new special levy were enacted.
This existing public support is indeed far below the level enjoyed by other area libraries, according to figures prepared by the Southern Adirondack Library System.
Richards Library’s public funding represents $4.48 per capita in Warrensburg and Thurman while Bolton Free Library receives $17.68 per resident, the Lake George-Caldwell Library receives $22.80 per capita, Brant Lake Free Library gets $14.74 per capita, and and Chestertown, $19.15 per resident. The Chestertown Library also gets its utility expenses and facility costs paid by the town taxpayers as well.
Sept. 26, library board members asked the Warrensburg school board to hold a vote on the special levy separate from the annual school budget vote, so area residents would not link the library levy to the school budget. Gilchrist said regional library officials recommended holding a vote at a separate time and place.
“A large number of people turn out to vote No on the school budget because it’s the 800-pound gorilla of taxation,” he said. “We want people to go to vote specifically for the library proposition — we want this issue to fly on its own.”
However, the school board voted 4-0 to hold it on the school board election day in May, citing that there would likely be a better turnout that day.
Richards Library Board President Susan Jordan said Wednesday that the institution has for a century provided so much for so many people in the area — and with the uncertain economy, more residents than ever are using the library, particularly for Internet use.
“Richards Library is our area communities’ history and our future, it provides our archives,” she said. “It’s a vital resource, and it’s important to have it supported.”