St. Charles library will ask for $35 million
St. Charles residents will be asked if they want more book for their buck this November as library officials decided Wednesday to place a $35 million tax increase question on the ballot.
The money would fund an expansion of the library that would double its size and create a new parking lot across the street. Use of the library tripled in the past 20 years. The number of local citizens carrying a library card also skyrocketed 58 percent in that same time period. As a result, library functions are often crowded to capacity. People taking computer classes often sit elbow-to-elbow. And space to add more of the library's most essential element, books, is gone.
If approved, the tax increase would add about $81 a year to the tax bill of a homeowner with a house that would sell for $300,000.
Library board members said they fear now is not the time to add to the local tax burden. However, referendum consultants advised the board that not asking for a tax increase this November would likely mean waiting another two years for the next best election cycle to put a question on the ballot. The library would lose its luster if it waited that long, board members said.
"You're going to have a library in a tail spin if we wait that long," said Norm Huntley, the board's vice president. "If we wait, prices are going to go sky high on this kind of project."
The board will spend the next couple months finalizing the wording of the tax increase on the ballot and amping up its effort to educate the public on why the expansion can't wait. Recent library surveys indicate the tax increase has slightly better than a 50/50 chance of success in November. Of 1,945 surveys returned, 1,032 people said they would or probably would vote in favor of the tax increase. A total of 819 people said they would definitely or probably vote against the tax increase. The remaining 94 people said they hadn't made up their minds yet.
Board President Victoria Haines agreed with her fellow board members that she's torn about the timing of the tax increase but said the down economy is really another reason a better library is needed right now.
"I feel that the people who perhaps might find the increase in their taxes a hardship are probably the ones who need the library the most and to use it the most," Haines said.