Library Referenda: A Condensed History
Proponents of finding additional funding for the Carnegie Libraries within the City of Pittsburgh’s borders want to place a question on the November ballot asking voters in the City to approve a 0.25 property tax increase.
Will the measure pass if placed in front of the voters? Informal data collected by the state Department of Education’s Office of Commonwealth Libraries shows that about half of the recent library tax questions were approved in recent years. Going back to 2001 the data shows eleven referendum questions posed around the state. Five questions were approved, six were voted down. Two of those approvals came in North Apollo Township (Armstrong County); first a levy was approved and then voters opted to retain the tax four years later.
The proposed property tax millage increase for funding libraries ranged from 0.10 mill in Robinson Township (Allegheny County) to 1.5 mills in Chester City (Delaware County). Two countywide referendum proposals (Perry County in 2002 and Pike County in 2009) were defeated. Two questions in the western suburbs of Allegheny County that both went on the ballot in 2003 went in opposite directions: the aforementioned Robinson approved, Moon Township rejected theirs.
If the question does get on the ballot in the City both proponents and opponents can make their respective cases known. According to the 2009 annual report of the Carnegie Library system, its biggest source of revenue is the Regional Asset District sales tax ($17.6 million) followed by the Commonwealth ($5.9 million). The City of Pittsburgh provided $74,000 that year. Both the RAD and state contribution were up compared to 1998’s financial report, but the City’s contribution was down. So one the one hand there could be an argument that the City needs to give more while on the other hand there could be a case made that there is sufficient public sources invested in the libraries.