ONCE UPON A TIME you could hear the spare change rattling in tin cups. The hands of local library trustees trembled. Drops of sweat dripped down their foreheads as they approached their Town Board to plead for a few dollars in the budget to buy an armful of books, patch the roof, keep the lights on.
“We can’t afford it,” one then another councilman would say. “We’d like to help, but we can’t, you see. The voters won’t have it. But come back next year, and then we’ll see.”
So the library trustees were thrifty for another year and not much changed until a governor named Pataki signed a law in 1995 called Chapter 414 that allowed small association libraries to place funding propositions on the annual election ballot. Town boards could no longer determine what independent association libraries needed to serve their communities. Some of town boards said no, no, that won’t work. Voters will never support taxing themselves.
But the people did approve library taxes. Over and over. And since the Chapter 414 law became the law services and programming at libraries all over Columbia County have improved… a lot.
Maybe the bit about keeping the lights on is over the top and sometimes it was the libraries, not the town boards that dragged their feet. But whatever the reasons, Columbia County was late to embrace the notion that the public will agree to pay for services that are of lasting value to them, their families and their neighbors.
There are 11 libraries in the county not counting Canaan, which is a branch of the Chatham Library. And the Chatham Library is operated by the school district, so its funding is part of the school tax levy. That leaves 10 association libraries to serve the rest of the county’s population. This year 3 of the 10 libraries will place Chapter 414 funding requests before voters in the communities they serve. Those libraries are: Kinderhook, New Lebanon and Roelif Jansen Community Library (RJCL).
But wait! It gets more complex. Two of the libraries asking for funds through ballot propositions serve multiple municipalities. The Kinderhook Library is seeking funds from taxpayers in Kinderhook and a smaller amount from the taxpayers in the Town of Stuyvesant. The RJCL serves Copake, Hillsdale and Ancram; each town is being asked for different amounts.
How do average voters, wherever they are, determine if there’s a library ballot proposition on their ballot? To answer that question you have to turn your ballot over. Take a deep breath. There will be at least five statewide propositions on your ballot that are not about libraries. There’s not room here to discuss those state propositions. But there is a way of to figure out whether your local library has a proposition asking you to approve a funding increase.
The back of the ballot only has room for a total of six propositions of any kind. This election, if the back of your ballot has six propositions. “Proposal Six” is funding for your local library. Vote Yes to support it.
But please, Please, Do Not try to read the proposition for the first time when you’re casting your vote. We hope to publish ballot information in the next few weeks on the statewide proposals. But you can also find sample ballots online at the Columbia County Board of Elections or go to the Board of Elections office at 401 State St., Hudson.
If you’re reading this, you don’t need to be told why libraries are an essential service for a functioning democracy. Where libraries are asking for help, it is the library board that has made the decisions about the amount of money needed and how it will be used. The library boards understand what impact the money will have on your life and theirs. So mark your choice of candidates on the front of the ballot then flip it over. Be sure to vote Yes on the library proposition if there is one. Don’t worry if there isn’t.