116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS - 'World class” continues to be the constant characterization when local officials and aficionados talk of the city's not-yet 2-year-old, $46-million downtown library that opened without debt. Now the task is to keep the lights on.
'It's a world-class library, and we want to continue to provide world-class service,” said Joe Lock, president of the library board.
Thursday, the board is slated to decide whether to ask voters in the Nov. 3 city election to approve a new library tax levy of 27 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value, the most allowed by state law, to help pay for operations beginning July 1, 2016.
If approved, the levy would raise an estimated $1.6 million a year for the downtown library and the city's expanded westside Ladd Library branch that operate seven days a week with an annual budget of $6.2 million.
About $1.1 million of the current budget comes from sources other than city funds. The city funds that go the library comprise about 5 percent of the city's overall property-tax supported budget.
A 27-cent levy would add $23 to the annual property tax bill of the owner of a $150,000 home.
The request would come as the library's budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 is being balanced only with help of a $669,000 infusion of extra city money and $250,000 in library reserves.
Revenue from the levy is designed to provide a dependable revenue stream for the library so emergency and reserve funds aren't what keep the doors open.
Dara Schmidt, the city's library director, said City Manager Jeff Pomeranz was 'very clear” earlier this year when he said special funding to get the library through the next budget year was 'one-time” only.
Revenue from the library levy is 'necessary to provide long-term, sustainable funding,” Schmidt said.
'We have grown in demand, we've grown in access, we have two full-service facilities that are open seven days a week,” she said. 'And the (budget) allocation has not increased to meet that demand.”
Schmidt said a defeat of the levy would mean the downtown and branch libraries would need to close at least one day a week.
City Council member Ralph Russell, the council's liaison to the library board, said some other Iowa cities have a library levy but Cedar Rapids now does not.
'I'm not in favor of tax increases, but I don't see any other way around this,” Russell said. 'I think this is one of those things, that if we're going to support our world-class library, we need to provide the adequate funding to operate it.”
For years, tax bills for Cedar Rapids property owners included a 4 cent library levy, which helped buy books. The levy ended on June 30, 2014, after the library board and the City Council agreed that the library would put off a request for a larger levy in 2013 as the City Council was asking voters to renew the local-option sales tax to fix streets. Voters approved the streets measure.
With that vote out of the way, the library board thinks it is now time to seek voter approval for the new levy, Lock said. He said the library board had been contemplating a similar request since 2008, but the flood and uncertainty of the needs of the new downtown library and the expanded westside branch put the request on hold.
According to the library's figures, 80 libraries in Iowa have a 27-cent levy, including those in Iowa City, Waterloo, Davenport, Ames, Cedar Falls, Newton and Burlington.
Marcia Rogers, a partner with campaign consulting firm Political Brinq, has been hired to run an educational campaign leading up to a November vote.
A first job will be to obtain about 2,100 signatures on a petition, required to request the vote.
Lock said some question the value of library buildings in the Internet age, as they did when the city was building its new downtown library to replace the one built in 1985 and damaged in the 2008 flood.
Federal and state disaster dollars, $7 million in private donations and $4.2 million from the local-option sales tax paid to build the new library and replace what was lost in the flood.
Schmidt said the library is serving more people and providing more services than ever before. In 2014, library users checked out 1.4 million books, movies, e-books and musical offerings, the most of any library in Iowa. The number of visits surpassed 660,000.
The library has gone from 11,000 people a year using its meeting rooms before the flood to more than 100,000 a year, she said.
'In some ways it seems like the flood washed away that question of relevance,” Schmidt said.