Prop. L On Feb. 3 Ballot To Help Fund Expansion

Library director says tax hike needed: budget has been cut for the last three years

Norah Crockett, 14 months, in the children’s section at the Webster Groves Library. The section is one of the areas the library wants to expand. photo by Kholood Eid (click for larger version)
January 23, 2009
President Barack Obama took office Jan. 21, culminating one of the longest and most expensive presidential campaigns in history.

But for 19,045 Webster Groves residents, there's a less-publicized, less-glitzy, but nonetheless important election coming up.

The Webster Groves Library Board of Trustees on Feb. 3 is asking Webster Groves voters to approve a tax increase that would be used to fund a $6.5 million renovation and expansion of the existing library.

Library Director Tom Cooper said library space and resources have been stretched thin in recent years by trying to accommodate an increasing number of patrons with an ever- decreasing budget.

Cooper said there were 951 additional adult items checked out and 1,499 juvenile items in December 2008 when compared to the same month in 2007.

"We've had to cut our budget for the last three years; that's our book budget, CDs, everything," Cooper said. "Especially at a time when we should be expanding."

The ballot measure, Proposition L, would double the library tax rate for assessed property value; bringing the tax rate to 27 cents per $100 of assessed value up from the current rate of 13.5 cents per $100 of assessed value.

For example, under the proposed tax the owner of a $200,000 home would pay an additional $51.30 a year, or $4.27 per month.

Of the library's additional 13.5 cent tax, nine cents would be used to generate tax revenue bonds to help pay for the expansion and renovations, 2.5 cents would go toward staff salary and training, 1.5 cents would be used to purchase additional library materials and the remaining half cent would fund building maintenance and technology improvements.

The Webster Groves Library plans on adding a second floor above the non-fiction stacks area, located on the east end of the library. photo by Kholood Eid (click for larger version)
Nine cents of the increase will be retired after the revenue bonds are repaid.

The tax increase would be the library's first since 1989, and its third since the tax was established in 1927.

Proposition L is part of a three-year effort to update and improve the library, an effort which started with a customer survey in 2006.

From that survey, staff formed three categories which would serve as the basis for future improvements: children's services, senior services and technology.

"We have great children's programming, but when we get more than a few children and parents in the children's area, it's just too crowded," Cooper said. "We want the people who pay for the library to be able to use it."

Cooper said any additions to the building would remain consistent with the original aesthetic of the structure and design.

"For all intents and purposes it will look the same from the front," Cooper said. "People will really only be able to tell the difference once they're inside."

Plans for the building at 301 E. Lockwood Ave. are based on a plan devised in 1950 which includes a partial second floor in the northeast corner of the building and expanding the east wing of the building to the north to make it the same length as the library's west wing.

The board scrapped a previous plan to utilize the adjacent house at 5 Mason Avenue that it had purchased in 2003, and has instead voted to sell the property.

Even if the library tax is approved by voters, the construction might not be complete for several years, Cooper said.

Frances Walrond of Webster Groves searches the non-fiction stacks at the Webster Groves Library on Tuesday, Jan. 20. Walrond’s first job was at the library as a senior in high school. The library plans on expanding the non-fiction stacks, as well as the children’s section. photo by Kholood Eid (click for larger version)
The other scenario, in which voters reject the ballot measure in February, would likely lead to a continuation of cuts to library services.

"We might have to cut hours or staff, we really don't want to run a campaign on threats, but we would have to do something," Cooper said. "I think a lot of people haven't noticed the cuts because we're a part of the consortium and they can usually get what they want from other libraries, too.

"But there would be a time when people start noticing that we're really not getting anything new."

Lucyann Boston, a co-chairman of the volunteer campaign committee for Proposition L, said the campaign has received a positive reaction so far from residents and even managed to attract about 130 volunteers to a Jan. 11 rally at Hixson Middle School.

"Our goal was to get 100 volunteers to help us make calls to Webster Groves citizens," Boston said. "But it just kind of snowballed."

Boston said volunteers have encountered some reluctance on the part of residents to support a tax because of financial concerns, but said a majority of residents have been supportive.

"I think people recognize that the services offered by the library far outweigh the cost," Boston said.

Cooper said plans for the renovations are available for inspection at the Friends of Library table in the library.

To find out where to vote for the February election, voters should call the St. Louis County Board of Elections at 615-1800.

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