Voters showed strong support for the Pine River Library District’s proposed mill levy increase, according to unofficial results from Tuesday’s election.
Among district voters, 59% voted for ballot issue 6A, while 41% voted against the measure. A total of 3,193 ballots had been counted by 9 p.m.
In 2018, the district requested a mill levy increase, but the effort lost by nine votes. Without a tax increase, the award-winning library faced cuts to programs, operating hours, staff positions and other expenses. This year, the library district asked for a smaller tax increase and campaigned harder to encourage residents to vote.
“We’re feeling like we’ve won this one,” said Shelley Walchak, director of the library. “We actually popped a bottle of Champagne.”
There were lots of smiling faces among the 50 people – kids, campaign committee members, board members and more – gathered in Pine River Library to watch the results.
“I’m feeling so relieved,” Walchak said. “Everyone was prepared, one way or another, to continue moving forward.”
Ballot measure 6A proposed increasing the property tax from 2.5 mills to 4 mills, or by about $337,000 total, for the 9,500 residents in the library district. The district’s boundaries are the same as the Bayfield School District and include Forest Lakes subdivision, Vallecito and Bayfield.
Property taxes provided 84% of the library’s revenue in 2018. Around 2010, its property tax revenue was $1 million, but declining oil and gas property tax revenue has decreased the library’s income by 44%.
With more property tax revenue, the library’s first priorities will be to reopen on Sundays starting Jan. 1 and to discuss extending evening weekday hours.
If the increase didn’t pass, Walchak said she would have had to cut staff positions in 2020. The extra revenue will provide more funding for personnel, repairs, maintenance and other needs.
“There will definitely be some adjustments for staff who’ve hung in there,” Walchak said. Because of the financial strain, staff members have taken furlough days, haven’t had a cost-of-living raise in four years and have not had merit raises.
The tax increase will also help maintain library services, book and digital collections, technology upgrades, youth learning activities and services, and adult education and senior services.
Still, Walchak had the 1,318 No votes on her mind. She said she wanted to reach out to those community members to see how she can make them feel comfortable and understand the value of the library.
For the Yes votes, Walchak thanked them for believing in the library.
“It’s about our community,” she said. “Thank you ... for investing in an institution that cares about connecting people with possibilities.”