Voters Approve Sustainable Funding For Prendergast Library

With voters in the Jamestown Public School District approving a $350,000 tax levy for the James Prendergast Library, there will be no more discussion about the facility possibly moving to a new location. P-J photo by Dennis Phillips

A lot was riding on voters approving the proposal to fund the James Prendergast Library $350,000 annually.

A short list of what was at stake was the location of the library, $111,000 in state aid and central library status.

However, because the $350,000 tax levy to fund the library annually was approved by a vote of 1,883 to 1,677, Annie Greene, library executive director, said the sustainable funding means the library won’t be changing locations and there is a possibility the state aid funding and central library status can be restored.

“We are just so grateful to the voters. Jamestown loves their library,” she said. “We can’t wait to thank everyone when they visit the library.”

In October 2019, the library board of trustees announced that without annual funding from residents in the Jamestown Public Schools District, it was projected the library would close within three to four years, with library officials relocating the library and possibly selling the building. The library has been located at 509 Cherry St., Jamestown, since its inception in 1891.

“With this sustainable funding, the library will now be here for generations to come,” Greene said. “The building, the library will stay right here. It’s wonderful.”

When city of Jamestown officials reduced the library’s funding from $350,000 to $50,000 during a two-year period, 2017 and 2018, the Prendergast Library failed the state’s Maintenance of Effort clause. The state’s Maintenance of Effort for Public Library Systems clause tries to ensure that local municipalities fund library operations so the state isn’t the only taxing entity supporting the facility. The Maintenance of Effort clause states that the reduction of 5% or more of a library’s funding by the local community for two consecutive years will result in a reduction in state aid. Because of its own financial issues, city officials cut funding to the Prendergast Library by 71% ($250,000) in 2017 and 50% ($50,000) in 2018.

In the 2020 budget, city officials did increase the library’s funding from $50,000 to $100,000.

When the library failed the Maintenance of Effort clause, state officials revoked Prendergast’s central library status. The loss of central library status resulted in a significant loss in state aid. Prior to the failed Maintenance of Effort clause, the library would have received around $123,000 in state aid in 2019. However, because of a 25% percent cut in state aid, the library only received around $81,000 in state aid last year.

This year with the additional loss of central library status, the library only received around $12,000 in state aid, a reduction of $111,000 during a two-year period.

Greene said now with committed local funding, library officials will work toward restoring its central library status, which will hopefully lead to its state aid being restored.

“We are going to work on the central library status and having our state aid restored,” Greene said. “We’re going to have to work closely with the Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Library System director to move forward on how to go about these steps with state officials.”

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, all votes were cast by absentee ballots. In total, there were 3,560 votes tallied. In comparison to the 2016 library funding proposal when the board was asking for $850,000 in annual support, only 2,175 people visited the library to vote at the polls. With the absentee ballots, 64% more votes were cast this year than in 2016.

“I do believe the absentee ballots made a difference,” Greene said. “We were able to reach a lot more voters.”

Greene said the $350,000 tax levy will be annual and the amount cannot increase unless the board ask for approval from voters in the Jamestown Public School District.

“That amount cannot increase unless the voters approve it,” she said. “This is only a portion of our budget. We will still be fundraising and writing grants to get to $825,000. That is the whole budget.”

Greene said she wants to thank the entire staff at the library, including retired former executive director Tina Scott, for their hard work.

“The entire staff has been involved and worked so hard,” Greene said. “We have a lot more work to do. The library has sustainable funding and that is very important.”

Greene said the library staff has been working to reopen the library following the COVID-19 pandemic. She said the tentative date for reopening the building is July 1. The library earlier this month started curbside pickup, which is available 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. For more information, visit prendergastlibrary.org.


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