Final arguments: Yea vs. Nay on Woodstock Library dissolution

John Ludwig (photos by Dion Ogust)

Vote Yes — Here’s what will happen 

The uncertainty around what will happen if Yes prevails on the library referendum has lifted. Town Supervisor Bill McKenna says publicly that the Town Board will support rechartering our library as a municipal library. The Mid-Hudson Library System says they’ll help us and support us in obtaining a new charter as a municipal library.

That means the library stays open if Yes prevails. What else will happen?

Taxes

Veterans and seniors will see the tax exemptions they qualify for applied to the library portion of their taxes. That’s not true today under the district library model. In Woodstock, approximately 1,325 taxpayers qualify for an exemption, or roughly 23 percent of the population.

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The Board of Trustees has increased our library tax 3.4 percent per year for the last 20 years, on average. Even when the spending goes down, as it did 5 percent in 2017, the tax goes up, 3 percent that year. When the voters reject a tax increase, as they did in 2007 and 2008, the tax stays the same. That’s the ratchet effect of the library tax, built into law. So the tax held steady for two years until the trustees lobbied in 2009 to get 601 voters to support them and pass a 10 percent tax increase. So after two consecutive years of voter dissatisfaction, the 3+ percent annual tax increase was back on track. Voting Yes on November 6 to dissolve the district puts an end to the ratchet tax.

Voter Representation

Some like to talk about “voting rights.” Equally important is voter representation. I showed above how mobilizing 601 people in 2009 was all it took to pass a large tax increase.

The trustee elections suffer in the same way from low voter participation. Many libraries, such as Poughkeepsie and Beekman, hold their elections along with the general election in November. But the Woodstock Library holds its elections in the first week of September, around Labor Day, the third day of school this year. In 2017, when voter turnout was just 316, three trustees were elected unopposed. By contrast, the general election that year brought 2,080 voters to the polls. The “voting rights” so revered in the library district elections don’t translate into true representation. Woodstockers would be better served by perhaps five or seven trustees vetted and appointed by the Town Board. There are more than 200 municipal libraries in New York State operating that way. Our district model is the outlier — only 7 percent of libraries operate under that system, and no more are being created.

Consolidation

The trustees approved a voucher for $9,100 at their last board meeting, a new expense for “review of audit.” It exceeds the just-approved tax increase ($8,676) we were told was for opening the library an additional day each week. After paying $12,000 last year for a library audit, was it wise to hire the same firm this year to review their audit for an additional $9,100?

Surely the library would benefit from consolidating services with the Town of Woodstock. Accounting is only the beginning. The Town already maintains many properties and could absorb the needs of the library without problem. Money would be saved on maintenance, legal and engineering expenses, and the highway department would maintain the parking. Consolidation is encouraged by New York State. The benefits of consolidation are self-evident.

The Building

To many, this referendum is about the building. It’s a vote of no confidence in the trustees’ 12-year history of failing to maintain the facilities — the poor air quality, the rain gushing in through closed windows, the barriers to those with disabilities, the scarcity of electrical outlets, the list goes on. Many people disagree with the January 18 decision to scrap it all and build something new for $5 million. Our master plan detailed the problems and gave a reasonable price for fixing them.

The building decision ties into the points above — taxes, voter representation and consolidation. Taxes would surely double if a 15,000 square foot building were built. Recall that the 2007 building proposal began with a 160 percent tax increase, and the voters rejected it 5 to 1. Last year, the voters spoke through the survey in numbers far exceeding turnouts at library elections — only 29 percent in the survey favored building new. Voter representation is not evident in the January 18 teardown proposal. Finally, consolidation with the Town of Woodstock — the sharing of facilities — makes the 15,000 square foot proposal superfluous. The five classrooms and large event spaces the trustees want didn’t come from voter demand. In fact, the trustees had to scrape for names to include in their full page ad this week — I know of nonresidents who know nothing of the building or the referendum, but gladly offered their names to a friend.

If the referendum passes, the voters have every right to expect our Town Board to provide the oversight needed to move our library forward. They’ve expressed their willingness to do that — what’s left is for the voters to give a resounding Yes on the November 6 library referendum.

– John Ludwig


Tim Moore

Don’t Dissolve and Terminate. Vote No!

It’s okay for some people to want an old building preserved. It’s also okay for other Woodstockers to want the best library we can possibly have. What’s tearing us apart is that some of the folks who want to preserve the old building are willing to destroy everyone’s votes to get their way. This referendum vote is not about a building. This is a vote about votes. Will you vote to wipe out your own voting rights — or say No to keep them?

Our Special Library District is a democracy that gives us direct power to fund our library and elect its board members. 4,580 of us have these voting rights now, but those votes will vanish if this referendum passes. Vote No.

It’s sad, but voter suppression is the only certain outcome we can count on if Yes votes win. The rest is murky. Not even the best lawyers know what will happen. John Ludwig promises a smooth transition. He has neither the credentials nor the crystal ball to know what will happen. If this referendum passes, lawyers (education, State, Town and library) will devour money and time as they sort out the problems this “playbook for dissolution” creates. Every Special District Library in New York has a stake in our outcome. We could be dragged into a long turf-war between many parties and statutes. And if — IF — after all that, we do get downgraded to a municipal library, our 4,580 votes will be snuffed out and replaced by three majority votes on the Town Board.

Let’s look at Town rule. Our Town Supervisor promises to hand over the 2019 Library budget that 511 voters already approved last September. Good, but Bill McKenna’s term ends in 14 months. Future Town Boards could slash the library budget anytime to give tax hawks red meat. Library budgets get raided regularly by towns and cities around the country. Need money for road work, new highway or police equipment? Need snow plowing, sidewalks, dog parks? Just cut library staff, or hours. Close it on Saturday. It’s easy. It’s just a line item.

Not only is our Library’s steady funding at stake on November 6th; its people are. If the town takes over, the love and volunteerism that has gone into our library for 105 years could fade. The old cobbled-together building might stand, but the independent spirit that inspired our Library Fair for 87 years? Where will that go?

An inanimate building didn’t create the Library of the Colony of the Arts. We did. Five generations of vibrant, diverse, creative people working each day. Compare our book collection to that of any other library and you will see the hearts and minds of our Colony reflected on those shelves. If you’re a parent, you know our tiny children’s room is a place of imagination and learning. If you’re a senior or have no internet service, the Woodstock Library is your lifeline. We have the busiest, most efficient library in the Hudson Valley. We service three times more visits per capita than the Saugerties library. People create that. It’s our votes each year that make our library great.

We have this democracy because our beloved Maurice Hinchey got an Assembly bill passed in 1989 allowing Woodstockers to vote directly. After 76 years of struggle, library funding was stabilized. Today our district works the same way a school district does. People vote directly for the board and budget.

Why would anyone terminate these rights? No one ever tries to dissolve the Onteora School District despite its much greater impact on people’s wallets. No one tries to annul Woodstock’s municipal charter because Mill Hill Road is choked and pot-holed all summer. But for some reason, the same band of dissenters go after the library year after year, with its tiny 4% sliver of our property tax bills. They write screeds about how the library board is a cabal of elites who waste taxpayer dollars and don’t listen to anyone. And sadly, many people believe these allegations because they’ve been repeated for so many years, in this newspaper and elsewhere.

They say the library board doesn’t listen to the people. This just isn’t true. From 2014 to 2018 the board has welcomed public input at every step of planning and development. More than 200 people jumped in and participated. They attended public forums, sent emails, walked and evaluated the current building. When the data was in, our elected representatives looked at costs and benefits and voted to build a new library.

So the dissenters, infuriated, devised this final nuclear option: Kill the democracy that elects library trustees. 

They ask 4,580 voters to naively terminate their own votes and everyone else’s. Who in their right mind would say yes to that? Defend our library! Vote No on November 6.

– Tim Moore

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