EDITORIAL: What your rights cost

NO STRUCTURE TELLS you more about a community than its library. It’s not so much the architecture, although that matters; it’s about the traffic in and out.

Every public school in the county has more floor space than the largest of our libraries; some town highway garages and salt sheds win the title for sheer bulk. We need these services and accept that we should support them in one form or another. But who says we need libraries?

The devices formerly known as phones put all the world’s misinformation about everybody and everything only a search away. They give us a library in our hands. You can even use your device to access the library. But history shows us that the voting public repeatedly says we need libraries and this fall the libraries in two neighboring communities, Kinderhook and Valatie, are asking voters to support their growth.

Between them, these libraries are chartered by the state to serve the Town of Kinderhook, the most populous town in Columbia County. The Kinderhook Library’s charter also includes the Town of Stuyvesant.

Their individual requests are different because the libraries and their communities are different. The Kinderhook Library has nearly tripled its floor space in the last two years and now has programs and space for all age groups. This was done with a $2.3-million capital fundraising effort, which paid for the expansion without using any tax dollars. But to put this new space to good use, the library is asking town voters for an increase of $49,000 for programs, books and media, increased staff time and a full-time children’s librarian, plus utilities and maintenance. The voters in Stuyvesant will be asked to approve an increase of $6,921 for the Kinderhook Memorial Library.

Valatie, the smaller of the two libraries, moved two years ago from a cramped space to its now-remodeled building on Kinderhook Street (US Rte. 9), also tripling its space but on a smaller scale. It too needs funds for programs, books/media and maintenance. The Valatie Library is asking for an annual increase of $9,150 from the town.

Some voters see these requests as a bargain, others as a stretch. Either way, there are a couple of facts to keep in mind. First, voters, not the Town Board, decide whether to fund the libraries’ requests. Also, voters had a chance to say no at the outset, rejecting the effort to put the requests on the ballot for the November 6 general election. But earlier this year each library gathered enough petition signatures to authorize ballot questions.

There is no automatic increase in future years. If the libraries need more public funds, they will once again have to collect signatures to get on the ballot and then hope voters approve.

Before voters can determine the fate of a library funding increase, they’ll have to find the propositions on the crowded November 6 ballot. Hint: You have to turn your ballot over. The library referendums are on the flipside of the Kinderhook and Stuyvesant ballots only. Town of Kinderhook voters will have to vote Yes or No on both funding propositions. Stuyvesant voters will see only one ballot question.

Library supporters acknowledge that the propositions will add to voters’ town property tax bills, with the amount depending on assessed value. A home in Kinderhook assessed at $200,000 would cost the owner an additional $16.53 a year. A home with a similar assessed value in Stuyvesant would pay an additional $7.07 per year. The funding increase requested by the Valatie Library amounts to about $1.85 a year for a home assessed at $200,000.

Voters have a right to know these figures. They might sway some votes. But voters know the figures don’t represent the full value of library service. For that assessment you have to go to the library. Try it even if you’ve never been before.

You don’t need a library card to walk through the door, to sit down, read a book or a magazine or (heaven forbid) a newspaper, work at a computer or ask a question. Count the people, note the age differences. You’ve paid for this. Even if you never return, you’ll know you always can.

This is the statement that a properly funded library makes. These public spaces speak for the taxpayers of a community, affirming their belief that the right to access knowledge is a shared value worth funding. It says the taxpayers here know a bargain when they see one.

Please support the Kinderhook and Valatie library referendums on November 6.

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