WARRENTON — Voters endorsed a local option tax Tuesday that will sustain the Warrenton Community Library.
The levy was passing 55 percent to 45 percent.
This summer, the Warrenton City Commission and the library board proposed an increase to the operational levy from 9 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value to 33 cents, the first such increase in 15 years. The levy will raise an estimated $933,773 over the next five years. The levy has only increased once before, from 6 cents to the present 9 cents.
“I’m excited to see where our library’s going to go,” Mayor Henry Balensifer said.
he voter turnout and “yes” votes are “a testament to the hard work of the volunteers … who went out and pounded the pavement and knocked on doors and got the word out,” Balensifer said. “The town wanted it and the town went out and worked for it and they got it.”
The city will not begin to collect the money until next year.
“For now we’re celebrating and looking forward to whatever that next step might be,” said Kelsey Balensifer, the chairwoman of the library board.
City staff will need to discuss exactly where the money will go. Staff and library board members have said the money will go toward automation services — books are still hand-stamped — to modernize library operations. It could also be used to expand the library’s limited hours and add staff time as well as e-books, books and other materials. Some of the money may go to paying routine bills such as rent and utilities.
If the levy hadn’t passed, the city would have adjusted its numbers and gone back to the voters again in May, Mayor Balensifer said, adding there would have been “some really hard discussions.”
For more than a decade, the library has worked with the same levy amount even as costs and demands for services have increased.
The city has been supplementing the library’s small budget, but the move to Main Avenue in June as well as growing demands for library services compelled the library board and the City Commission to reassess a five-year operational levy set to end this year.
“It was coming to a point where we were asking, ‘Do we cut back hours?’ It’s barely open as it is,” Mayor Balensifer said. “We’ve got a bigger facility now which provides better services and more amenities but at the same time it’s a lot to manage.”
“I think I can breathe now,” said site manager Nettie-Lee Calog. She had been trying not to think about it all day. “I’m just really relieved and excited. … I’m really grateful to the mayor and all the people who really pushed for the vote.”
Her next step is to begin researching how to bring automation to the library. She plans to talk with staff at Seaside and Astoria’s libraries for guidance and advice.
Since opening at its new location on Main Avenue after decades at a small, deteriorating building in Hammond, the library has become even more of a community hub, Calog said. People who hadn’t realized the city even had a library when it was located in Hammond have signed up for library cards. Calog has her own office. There is a book sorting room. There is even a children’s corner.
It was hard to refrain from advocating for the levy increase, she said. As a city employee, she couldn’t go out to talk to potential voters and solicit “yes” votes.
The library board established a political action committee to take on the campaign, setting up a website to educate people about the proposed levy increase and show them a variety of ways they could support the library’s efforts.
Shall Warrenton levy $0.330 per $1,000 assessed value for library operations for five years beginning in July?