By Patrick Winderl/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
On Tuesday, voters countywide will be asked to renew a tax for the Havre-Hill County Library. The measure would make permanent a funding measure voters approved five years ago.
The 3-mill levy would be used to offset annual state and local funding shortages of about $72,000, an amount supporters said would force the library to reduce its services if the tax is not approved.
At the current value of a mill, the tax raises about $81,000 a year. The owner of a $100,000 property pays $7.03 a year to support the library through the 3-mill levy.
Voters in November of 1998 approved the levy for a five-year period by a margin of 3,456 to 2,050 - or 63 percent to 37 percent.
If voters don't renew the mill levy, the library will face funding shortages in a number of areas. Those include about $30,000 for books; $10,000 for electronic databases, software, videos and audio books; $12,000 for system maintenance and upgrades; $4,000 for Internet access; $4,000 for children's programming; and $12,000 for maintaining the building grounds and parking lot.
Those were the figures developed by library director Bonnie Williamson, Havre-Hill County Library Board member Dennis Parman said today.
At the request of the library board, the Hill County Commission adopted a resolution placing the funding measure on the ballot. The resolution says funding for the library is limited by several provisions in Montana law, including one that prevents local governments from raising taxes past their 1996 levels.
"The limitations of (the laws) severely restrict the ability to adequately operate the Havre-Hill County Library," the resolution said.
The Havre-Hill County Library Board requested that the levy appear on the primary ballot so that if it fails, it can plan for the anticipated shortages when it sets its budget in September, said Hill County Clerk and Recorder Diane Mellem.
The library tried to secure funding from other sources before returning to the taxpayer, Williamson said.
"We tried to augment the budget in any way we could think of, so we wouldn't have to come back to the taxpayers," she said.
Those efforts included seeking federal and private money as well as joining a statewide system of libraries that is supplemented by state money.
Public libraries in Montana are organized by region into federations, which share resources and services to allow access to more materials than a single library could offer. The federations were developed by the Montana State Library Commission as part of an effort to give all Montanans access to a public library.
The Havre-Hill County Library became the headquarters for the Pathfinder Federation, which includes libraries in Hill, Cascade, Blaine, Liberty, Chouteau, Teton, Glacier, Pondera and Toole counties.
Without the 3-mill tax, the library would be woefully underfunded, Williamson said.
The library's operating budget for fiscal year 2003-04 was $243,235. Among the revenue sources are $159,000 of tax money from Hill County, which includes the 3-mill levy, and $103,000 from the city of Havre. Although the contributions from the city and county total $262,000, 10 percent of that money is placed in a cash reserve fund, leaving $235,000 before $8,000 in state money is factored in.
Continuing the 3-mill library levy to ensure that doesn't happen is critical to maintaining the services that patrons have come to expect, Williamson said.
"We feel we can set a budget and continue library services as they are today if we can just get these 3 mills to continue," she said.
If the tax is not renewed, the library will have to look at areas to cut.
"When and if it happens, we'll certainly have to look at the hours we're open and staff positions and the computer services we offer," she said.
Havre resident Richard DonTigny said he hopes the library isn't forced to cut any services. DonTigny said he enjoys many of the services offered by the library, including using the Internet and ordering books via interlibrary loan.
"I'm down there about every other week," he said. "My wife visits the library even more than I do. She's down a couple of times a week."
DonTigny said he supported the measure five years ago and plans to again on Tuesday.
Brad Lotton, chair of the Hill County Republican Party, said this morning he does not know of anyone who plans organized opposition to the proposed levy.
"I can't think of anyone. It seems like they're using the money efficiently. It seems like it's a pretty good thing for the community, so I wouldn't expect too much opposition to it," he said.
The library serves a critical need within the community, Williamson said, adding that one in every two county residents has a library card, as opposed to one in six nationwide.
The library is open 50 hours a week, and serves an average of 183 people a day.