Library officials want to throw the book at Mayor Bill Finch. Well, sort of.
They say the library system is woefully underfunded and they haven’t been enamored of the mayor since he described library workers as “non-essential” following layoffs last year to help close a budget gap. The library budget was ultimately rescued during negotiations with the City Council.
Library Board members such as Jim O’Donnell and Sylvester Salcedo support a citywide referendum that would allow voters to decide — based on state statute – library expenditures. For instance, voters would vote up or down on a proposed mil levy, say three quarters of a mil, to finance library costs.
State statute allows such a referendum and even the City Charter specifies a 2.33 mil levy to fund library services, although city bean counters don’t follow it. The problem with the city ordinance? One mil in the current city budget represents roughly $6 million. The current library budget is roughly $4 million. City officials are against a referendum, including several City Council members that went to bat for the library. Translation: we’ll tell voters not to support this if it gets to a referendum.
The Library Board has a unique self-sustaining system. Existing board members determine future board members unlike most of the rest of city boards and commissions appointed by the mayor and approved by the City Council.
Bridgeport enjoys one of the finest public library systems in the state and library officials say the mayor doesn’t appreciate the knowledge and educational tools it brings to an entire region.
Is the referendum threat a negotiating strategy to ensure future library services? Maybe. Or maybe it’s for real and then the voters decide. Other towns have done this. But what’s the down side to other budget-challenged departments if the referendum passes? And what happens if the levy request is rejected by voters?
Look for this issue to take shape over the next few weeks.
From the City Charter
2.112.060 Library fund tax.
To provide for the expenses of the maintenance of the city’s public library and reading room, a tax of two and thirty-three hundredths (2.33) mills shall be levied and collected in the same manner as other city taxes and shall be known as the library fund.
From Connecticut General Statutes
CGS Sec. 11-36. Town or borough tax. When fifty electors of any town or borough present a petition to the clerk of such town or borough, asking that an annual tax be levied for the establishment and maintenance of a free public library and reading room in such town or borough, and specify in their petition a rate of taxation, not to exceed three mills on the dollar, such clerk shall, in the next legal notice of the regular municipal election in such town or borough, give notice that at such election the question of an annual tax for the maintenance of a library is to be voted upon in the manner prescribed in section 9-369. The designation of such question on the voting machine ballot label shall be “Shall a …. mill tax be levied to establish and maintain a free public library and reading room?”. Such notice and such designation of the question on the voting machine ballot label shall specify the rate of taxation mentioned in such petition. If, upon the official determination of the result of such vote, it appears that a majority of all the votes upon such question are in approval of such question, the tax specified in such notice shall be levied and collected in the same manner as other general taxes of such town or borough and shall be known as the “library fund”. Such tax may afterwards be lessened or increased within the three-mill limit, or made to cease, in case the electors of any such town or borough so determine by a majority vote at any regular municipal election held therein, in the manner hereinbefore prescribed for voting upon such question; and the corporate authorities of such town or borough may exercise the same powers relative to free public libraries and reading rooms as are conferred upon the corporate authorities of cities.
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