JOHNSTOWN — There were tears of joy among supporters and staff of the Johnstown Public Library Tuesday night after voters approved rechartering the library as a school district library by a vote of 662 to 243.
Johnstown Public Library Director Erica Wing and newly elected library Trustee Shelley Yerdon awaited the results of the vote on the library’s first floor by putting together a multicolored puzzle called “Spring.”
“These puzzles are out here for the public. I came in here the other day and a 3-year-old and his mom were working on this puzzle,” Yerdon said.
The stakes were high for the vote. The city of Johnstown had traditionally funded at least 75 percent of the library’s budget, but was set to reduce its annual funding down to only $5,000, not enough to keep the library open after the end of 2018.
Although the New York State Library Association estimates that about 95 percent of all library funding votes pass, voters in the Greater Johnstown School District rejected a $426,300 tax levy hike on May 15 and face another budget vote on June 19. The school budget will need 60 percent voter approval for a proposed $308,000 tax levy hike — all of which added uncertainty to how residents would vote Tuesday on forming a library district.
Wing said she and library officials estimated they would need about 300 yes votes to pass the library rechartering proposition. She was impressed by the number of people who came out to vote, but she said she was not surprised by the results.
“It wasn’t a sure bet, at all, but, you know, the library has always been well-loved here in Johnstown. If we’ve learned anything over the last almost two years is that the community really believes in the library and has supported us,” Wing said.
The Johnstown Public Library will now be rechartered from being a municipal library for the city of Johnstown to a school district library for all of the residents of the Greater Johnstown School District.
The Johnstown Public Library joins a growing trend as more and more municipal libraries, many under financial pressure, have made the switch to being funded by a school district. Now, 13 of the 14 libraries in the Mohawk Valley Library System, including Gloversville and Amsterdam, have become school district libraries, leaving only the Schenectady County Public Library funded the traditional way.
In approving the rechartering, school district residents also agreed to an annual tax levy of $396,528 to fund the library, as well as a slate of new library trustees: Yerdon, Hari Kaliath, Shannon King, John S. VanArnam, Elizabeth Camarra, Elizabeth Russo and Debra Ammann.
The tax funding equates to about $70 annually for a house assessed at $100,000 and will continue permanently. The additional charge will be applied to school district tax bills, but will not affect the Greater Johnstown School District budget. Additional tax increases will need to be approved by 51 percent of voters in the school district.
Wing said having a permanent funding stream will allow the library to move forward with plans for programming and staff that have been put on hold since city of Johnstown officials first told her the city would be withdrawing funding.
“When I first came on, about six years ago, the first few years the budget cycle was business as usual, but then in 2016 we really were blindsided because the city’s problems kind of came out of nowhere and the library was the first potential cut because we aren’t an essential service,” she said.
In addition to the tax funding from school district residents, the Johnstown Public Library will also receive funding from the Johnstown Library Foundation, a non-profit group that was formed earlier this year and has a bequest of $700,000. The library has also received between $2,000 and $3,000 annually from the Friends of the Johnstown Library, another non-profit.
The library currently has two full-time employees and 16 part-time employees for a total payroll cost of about $301,000. Some of the increased funding from the tax levy will go toward replacing services the city had been providing the library, including groundskeeping and snow plowing.
Wing said she also hopes to bring on another full-time librarian, which would enable the library to expand its offerings. She said she has plans to increase programming at the library now that it has a permanent funding stream.
“We’re looking specifically at that teen and tween group, kids in middle school, high school, even later elementary school; they’ve always been really hard to hold onto. We think that’s an important part of the population that we’d really like to serve in the hopes of growing some more lifelong learners,” she said.