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Officials Unsure How Absentee Ballots May Impact Plan

When the Prendergast Library Board of Trustees voted last year to ask residents in the Jamestown School District for funding assistance, they had no idea how different the world would be by the time votes were tallied.

For instance, library officials didn’t know that residents would be voting by absentee ballot instead of going to the polls to make their decision on the proposal to fund the library $350,000 a year.

The original vote was scheduled to happen in May at the same time as the Jamestown Public Schools annual budget vote. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the vote was delayed and now will be held via absentee ballots. All absentee ballots must be received by the school district’s clerk by 5 p.m. Tuesday, June 9.

When asked by The Post-Journal how voters deciding by absentee ballots would impact the outcome of the vote, Annie Greene, Prendergast Library executive director, said she was unsure.

“We don’t know. The pandemic has had an unprecedented effect on our world, nation, state and community,” Greene said. “For example, the digital use of the library has increased during the pandemic. We now have over 350 new followers on Facebook since we started our digital programming, and electronic material checkouts have increased significantly.”

Greene said there is no way to know if voters deciding by absentee ballot will help or hurt the library’s cause.

“We encourage all eligible voters to cast their vote on this important issue for our community,” she said.

In April, the library board’s attorney, Robert Schofield, discussed three options with the library board on how to garner public funding support.

One option would be for the library board to continue with the planned 259-vote. Another option discussed by Schofield would be for the trustees to create an association library district. He said it would be very similar to how the library already functions. Instead of a board appointed by other trustees, members would be voted on by residents who live in the library’s service area.

The third option discussed by Schofield is for the library association to recharter as a public library district. He said the option would create a public library that serves the boundaries of the Jamestown Public Schools District. He added that a public library district would also have an elected board and residents would vote on public funding for the library.

Greene said the board is currently focused on reopening the facility after closing in March because of the pandemic and not on if the public should be allowed to vote for library trustees.

“Right now, the focus of the library’s board of trustees and management team is to provide service while adhering to the state guidelines, maintaining staff and patron safety, and planning for day-to-day operations as we move forward in a phased reopening,” she said. “We will address those important governance issues when the time is right.”

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