Campaign Q&A Documents: Frequently Asked Questions about the Election to Establish and Fund the James Prendergast Public Library District, Jamestown

Given static and/or declining revenue from both public and private sources and increasing costs, despite enacting a rigorous program of cost saving measures that included both staff and materials budget cuts, the Library’s Board of Trustees was faced with the challenge of finding a more reliable source of income to fund library operations.

The Trustees thoroughly explored every possible option and now are pursing a plan to establish a special district library that will secure the library’s future and stem the further erosion of services. The plan asks voters residing within the proposed district to establish the James Prendergast Public Library District, to approve $560,000 towards the library’s annual operating budget and to elect a nine-member board of Trustees.

1. What are the propositions that will be on the ballot?

  • Proposition #1 will ask voters to establish the James Prendergast Public Library District and to approve an annual tax levy of $560,000 to support and maintain the Library.
  • Proposition #2 will provide the opportunity to elect nine district residents to the Board of Trustees to govern the new Library.

2. When and where is the election?

The election will be held on Tuesday, September 20, 2005 from noon to 9 p.m. at the Prendergast Library, 509 Cherry Street, Jamestown, New York. There will be two voting machines and volunteers will provide rides to the polls. The Library is handicapped accessible.

3. Why is the voting only taking place at the Library?

The law which allows this election to take place calls for the voting to be held only at the Library.

4. Who is eligible to vote?

All registered voters who reside in the proposed library district may vote.

5. Will people be allowed to vote by absentee ballot?

Yes. Those interested in voting absentee can apply for an absentee ballot by mail or by calling the Library (484-7135).

6. How many votes are needed for passage of the library district proposal?

A majority of those cast in the election.

7. Who can run for the Board of Trustees?

Any registered voter who has resided within the district for at least one year prior to the election may run for a seat on the nine member Library Board of Trustees. Each candidate must submit an election petition signed by a minimum of 25 registered voters residing within the district to the library’s Secretary of the Board by August 19. Those interested in running for the board may pick up an informational packet at the library’s Reference Desk.

8. Will the Board of Trustees be paid?

No. All library trustees will volunteer their service.

9. Why are we electing the Board of Trustees?

To have direct representation such as citizens enjoy with all levels of government. Voters have a right to determine who will have responsibility for managing public tax dollars raised for library purposes. An elected library board will be directly accountable to voters.

10. Will the public be informed about board candidates before the election?

Yes. Information about the people who are running for a seat on the Board of Trustees will be available at the Library and will be released to all area media outlets. In addition, candidates will be encouraged to attend the two informational meetings scheduled for Tuesday, September 13 at 2 p.m. and Thursday, September 15 at 7 p.m. in the Fireplace Room at the Library.

11. What are the geographic boundaries of the proposed district?

The library district’s geographic boundaries are the same as those of the Jamestown School District’s and that portion of the Southwestern Central School District that is within the Town of Ellicott.- that is, West Ellicott and the Village of Celoron. There is no chartered library within West Ellicott or Celoron.

12. Why were these areas included in the proposed district?

The majority of the Library’s cardholders live in the proposed district and regularly use the Prendergast Library. More people from this geographic area use the library than from any other town, village or city in the county. It is only fair that the areas from which the majority of library users come, are asked to pay for its support. Taxpayers within the district are being asked to fund 49% of the library’s budget.

13. Could the district be enlarged?

Yes, this is possible. The people living in a geographic area coterminous with the boundaries of the proposed district could vote to join at a future election.

14. The Library seems OK; why are you proposing this change?

We’re doing this to secure the Library’s future and to stem further erosion of services.

At first glance the Library may seem OK, but it is becoming more and more difficult to maintain the library services the community needs given flat or reduced funding from both public and private sources.

Funding from the City of Jamestown makes up the Library’s largest source of income. Yet, this funding has remained essentially the same or has even declined in the last 17 years. In 2005, the City provides $370,000 to the Library; that’s just $80 more than the Library received in 1989! With all the good will in the world, the City just can’t increase library funding in a meaningful way. By appealing to taxpayers directly, the Library will at last be able to secure reliable funding.

The library hasn’t been able to earmark 20 percent of its annual operating budget - the nationally recommended minimum - for books and other materials for six years. Prendergast will spend just 12.18 percent of its budget for new materials in 2005, and it will be able to buy far fewer items than before because the cost of items people want to borrow is going up. One of the main reasons people use the Library is to access its collection, and a recent patron survey identified several areas where people want more materials.

Staffing levels are down in the last five years by 6.8 full-time equivalents - a workforce reduction of 23% that means 255 fewer work hours available per week. Reduced staffing means longer lines, less assistance, longer waiting times for new materials, and fewer programs. To cut staff further would result in reducing the hours we are open.

15. When did the library board decide to pursue the option of creating a library district?

The following time-line describes the actions taken by the Board in coming to this decision:

November, 2003 - September, 2004 - Library Board investigates options
October, 2004 - Library Board votes to pursue the district as the preferred option
November, 2004 - April, 2005 - Meetings held with elected officials and community leaders
April - June, 2005 - Library District bill drafted & introduced
June 30, 2005 - Public announcement made
August - September, 2005 - Public information meetings
September 20, 2005 - Election

16. Why can’t you just charge a fee to anyone who uses the library?

It is against NYS Education Law for the library to charge for its services.

17. What were the Library’s other options to raise money?

The Library Board considered and rejected the following options:

Charge those who use the library a fee: This is against the law. By NYS Education Law, library service must be “forever free.”

Raise more private grants to fill the gap: Grant funders want to provide seed money for innovative and new services, not for basic services. Last year, the library secured only half the amount of foundation grants than it was able to get five years ago.

Use more volunteers: We do use volunteers in our literacy program. The problem with this solution is that the library would need additional human resources to manage a larger volunteer program. Many critical services, however, require trained, paid staff.

Ask the public for more donations: We have and we do - but the Library just barely made its fundraising goal of $145,000 in each of the past three years. This library already does more than most public libraries to raise money for operating expenses. Donations, while important, do not provide a consistent income stream.

Regionalize the library’s structure: This was rejected because area libraries would have to merge into one entity and local control would be lost - we do not want to create another Erie County situation here.

18. How much is the proposed library tax?

Based on the July, 2005 assessed taxable values of property located within the proposed district, the cost of the library tax will be 67 cents per $1,000 of full assessed value. Because property in the City of Jamestown is not assessed currently at full value, but rather at 31% of full value, the cost to city taxpayers will be $2.15 per $1,000. The following table illustrates the amount of the library tax:

Assessed Value
(Currently 31% of Full Value)
Annual Library Tax
($2.15 per $1,000)

The average residential assessed value in the City of Jamestown is $17,050 (Full value assessment is $55,000). The homeowner with the average assessed value will pay a library tax of $36.66.

Assessed Value
(100% Full Value)
Annual Library Tax
($.67 per $1,000)

The average residential assessed value for property located outside the City, but within the proposed library district is $60,000. The homeowner with the average assessed value will pay a library tax of $40.20.

19. Does anyone currently pay a tax for the Prendergast Library?

Yes. City of Jamestown taxpayers currently pay $1.91 per $1,000 of assessed value in taxes to the City in support of the Library. Those taxes are passed on to the Library by the City. The proposed district tax will be an increase of 24 cents per $1,000 for City taxpayers. City residents owning property of average assessment will see their taxes supporting the Library increase from $32.56 to $36.66 - an annual increase of $4.16.

20. Will the City of Jamestown be asked to continue financial support?

No. If the district is approved, the City will not be asked to provide any funding from its own budget for the Library. The Library tax will come directly to the Library. It will not be a part of the City’s budget nor will City Council have any authority over the Library’s funding. Only district voters will have that authority.

21. Will the City reduce its taxes because of the library tax?

That’s not a question the Library can answer. Only the City Council can make that determination.

22. Does STAR apply to the library tax?

No. STAR only applies to school taxes. State law does not allow STAR to be applied to library taxes.

23. Will the library tax automatically increase every year?

No. Once approved, the library tax will remain the same each year. However, when an increase is needed, the elected Library Board must place a new budget proposition before the voters for approval. If the voters do not approve the increase, the amount of annual library tax will remain the same. The Library Board will not have the authority to automatically raise the library tax - only district voters can do so.

24. How will library tax dollars be used?

The library tax will meet 49% of the Library’s annual operating budget. It will help cover such expenses as utilities, insurance, reference, service to children, maintenance, mandated increases in the minimum wage, and for additional new books and other library materials. Administrative costs will continue to be just 5% of the total budget.

25. What other sources of income does the library have?

The balance of the library’s annual operating budget comes from grants and fund raising (such as the annual booksale), state aid, endowment income, and fines and copy machine revenue. A new Friends of the Library will be asked to plan fund raising activities.

26. Why don’t you seek more grant monies and donations?

This library has probably secured more grants and private donations to meet operating expenses than any other library in New York State. All of the local foundations have been extraordinarily generous with grants for books and other materials and for special programs. The library has raised $2,366,156 in grants in the past ten years. Today the problem is that both private and public grant providers have less to give and more organizations requesting help. Last year, the Library secured half the amount in grant funding that it received five years ago.

Grant funders don’t want to provide money for basic services - they want to provide seed money for new and innovative projects.

27. Why don’t you use the endowment to run the Library?

We do. Income from the endowment provides 14% of the annual operating budget. The endowment is the result of the Library receiving bequests and gifts from local citizens who stipulated that only income from their gifts could be used; the principal is not to be touched. Without endowment income continuing in perpetuity, a much greater amount of tax money would need to be raised. Income from the endowment helps keep the library tax rate as low as possible.

28. Why don’t you stop Bookmobile service to save money?

The Bookmobile is not a service of the Prendergast Library. Prendergast does not pay any money for the Bookmobile. The Bookmobile is funded and operated by the Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Library System.

29. What is the Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Library System?

The Library System is one of 23 public systems in New York State. It is a cooperative system with 36 member libraries - all of the public libraries in Chautauqua and Cattaraugus Counties. The best way to describe it is to say that it provides important infrastructure services to all of those 36 libraries: interlibrary loan, centralized ordering and processing of books and other library materials, grants to member libraries, professional consultant services to member libraries too small to hire a trained librarian, and direct library services to people living within the two counties in communities too small to support their own library (the System does this through its Bookmobile). The System receives 70% of its budget from the State. The balance comes from the two counties and other sources.

By offering member libraries centralized services, the resulting economies of scale save those members and taxpayers almost $900,000 annually - that’s money the libraries can use to be open and for books and other materials.

As a condition of membership, each of the System’s 36 member libraries must freely serve all the people living with the two counties.

The Library System has had its offices in the Prendergast Library building for over 40 years. It pays a share of the building’s utilities, maintenance, and insurance costs, thus saving local taxpayers a significant portion of those costs.

30. Does the Prendergast Library receive any cash benefits as a member of the Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Library System?

Yes, it does - this year those benefits amount to $152,002. As the largest library in the two county area, Prendergast receives the largest Book Plan grant from the System. The Book Plan is a combination of state and county money awarded to each member library to use to spend on books and other materials of its own choosing. In addition, the System pays a portion of Prendergast’s utility, insurance, and maintenance costs. And as central library of the System, Prendergast receives almost $82,000 in special state aid. This funding significantly reduces the amount of local tax money needed to run the library.

31. What will happen if this fails to pass?

We will continue to request funding from the City of Jamestown. However, while we will continue to seek support from this and every other possible source, absent a meaningful increase in revenue, the Library will have no choice but to reduce its hours of opening and further reduce its spending for books and other materials. To cut staff further would necessitate a cut in hours. Staff levels are already at the minimum needed to operate the library building safely.

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