For the first time in its history, the Kent Public Library will seek its funding allotment through voter approval.
Kent Public Library board members and supporters are beginning a petition drive that will place a referendum question on the ballot this November requesting voters in the town decide how much funding the the library should receive in hopes of getting more money than what the town board has allotted for its annually.
A petition drive got underway last weekend as library board president Michael Mahoney said the board hopes to collect at least 700 signatures to get on the ballot for this November. In a recent press release from the library board, it stated while the board has worked hard to contain costs, it is necessary to ask Kent voters for an increase in funding.
In the last 13 years, inflation has risen 22 percent, but the library has only received a funding increase of 1/2 of 1 percent from the town board, according to the press release. The increase in funding, if approved, would require a Kent household with an average home value of $255,000 to pay about $6 more yearly, according to the release.
The library currently receives $527,150 from the town board. They are asking voters to provide them with $566,686 for their next fiscal year.
Mahoney, in an interview, said the funding increase would be vital to continue to improve and maintain programs and services within the library. This is the first time the library board is putting forth a funding proposition, also known as a Chapter 414, to voters in town, he confirmed.
“We’re starting to see in order to be sustainable we’re seeking a direct vote from the people of Kent,” Mahoney said.
Mahoney said while the town board has been supportive of the library, they haven’t doled out the increases the library board believes is necessary. The library board has considered not increasing programs or materials because of lack of funding, which Mahoney said is “not a good place for the library to be.”
“And we’re not asking for a tremendous amount more, it’s just if we continue at a level rate while inflation rises we’re actually losing purchasing power,” he said.
Mahoney noted the library has been a vital community resource with about 295 visitors every day and about 1,200 programs were offered to various ages in the town. Last year, 490 new patrons received library cards, he added.
Patrons save $1.4 million yearly, Mahoney said by using the Kent library.
In order to get the support to pass the referendum, Mahoney said he hopes all the services provided and work done by the library staff daily will be the best selling point. Since the petition drive began, people have been “very supportive,” Mahoney said.
While most people can agree libraries are vital centers of the community, there is a question how much money should be allotted toward them. The Putnam Valley library board attempted to increase funding through voter approval, but it was rejected by town residents a couple years ago.
Kent Councilman Paul Denbaum, who has been part of a town board that has determined the library’s budget the past several years, said he is generally opposed to any tax increase on town residents. He said he believes the library should consider cost cutting before seeking more money through voters.
Citing a possible cost cutting measure, recently he said the library hosted a Game of Thrones viewing party, which he thought was unnecessary and a waste of funds.
“The library should get back to the basics of providing free reading materials and a place to learn for our children and the elderly,” Denbaum said. “If they did that, they wouldn’t need to raise taxes at all.”
Library director Carol Donick said while the increase is modest, the additional funding would be important.
“So many things have gone up in costs that we had to cut back year by year and that would reverse that trend,” Donick said.