Library ballot proposition outlined, options discussed

Michelle Swane, branch manager at the Ozark Regional Library Ironton Headquarters, talks to members of the Iron County Democrat Club at a recent meeting. Sitting behind her at the computer is Holly Martin Huffman, the director of the Ozark Regional Library system. The duo explained the library’s ballot proposition and took questions from the group.

When Ste. Genevieve County pulled out of the four-county consortium that is the Ozark Regional Library System, it made the future  look pretty dim.

“Ste. Genevieve thought they were paying more than their fair share and they were,” said Holly Martin Huffman, speaking before the Iron County Democrat Club recently.  Huffman is the director of the library system. “That hasn’t been always the case.  Iron County paid more than its fair share for many, many years when the mines were going.  But, Ste. Genevieve has that right and that leaves us in trouble.”

The remaining branches in three counties - Annapolis, Bourbon, Cuba, Fredericktown, Ironton, Steelville, and Viburnum - are faced with revenue shortfall that will drastically alter operations unless additional revenue can be found.

As Huffman explained it, the expected revenue for 2016 was $287,000. 

“What we actually spent on our libraries in the three counties was $368,000,” She said. “We didn’t go into 

the red.  We still had Ste. Genevieve’s money for most of last year. This year we are operating at ‘thrifty normal’ right now and we are using reserve (funds).  We have pretty good reserves but we can’t continue to use them.”

The last time the library system asked for a levy increase was 1948. The levy now - 10 cents for $100 of assessed property valuation - is among the lowest in the state and at the bare minimum the state requires to obtain grants and take part in other state funding.

The Library Board is asking for another 10 cents.

Here is the actual wording of the ballot proposition:

“Shall the $0.10 per hundred dollars assessed valuation tax for the county library (set in 1948) be increased to $0.20 per hundred dollars assessed valuation for the purpose of maintaining and improving library facilities; extending service hours and staff; updating technology at all locations; providing outreach services to schools, daycares and nursing homes; increasing programming for children, youth, adults and seniors; increasing the new print, audio/video and digital materials budget; providing computer classes for job training and personal achievement; and for general operating expenses for the county library?”

The proposition will be on the ballot in each county served by the system and it must be approved by voters in each of the counties.

The cost of the proposition, proponents say, is equal to an additional $7.60 annual cost to the owner of a $40,000 house, or about 2 cents per day extra.

If you have an $80,000 house, that additional yearly cost will about to $15.20 or about 4 cents per day.

If it does not pass, the current expenditures would exceed revenues by about $100,000 per year and that would mean cuts both of personnel and probably branches; certainly of services.

“I think a library is a wonderful thing,” Huffman told the group, running off a list of things the staff would like to be able to do if the levy passes:  bring back the bookmobile; improve technology, increase outreach to schools and senior citizens; provide more programs and services; perhaps even expand to some of the rural communities in these counties who are not being served.