By Russ Lawrence
Voters in the Darby School District will begin receiving mail-in ballots this week for a special election on a mill levy to provide additional support for the Darby Public Library.
Ballots will be mailed on August 26, and must be returned by September 15. The vote will decide whether property owners should pay an additional three mills in support of the Darby institution. The additional levy would add about $30,000 to the library’s annual budget, and would cost property owners within the district $3.93 per year per $100,000 of assessed valuation.
“Keep Darby Strong” is the message of supporters of the levy, reinforcing the notion that the issue is bigger than just the library. “Vote Yes for Darby Community Public Library” is the Facebook page for supporters, where testimonials speak to the importance of the library to businesses and job-seekers, families and even tourists.
“We are each passionate about the value of the library, and are doing our best to let folks know the library is not owned by the town and, as an independent entity, needs the mill levy to maintain its services,” said Sandra Burner, head of the pro-levy campaign. “To me, the library is the jewel of the community, offering opportunity, resources, and a ‘safe place’ to all who live here.
“We chose ‘Keep Darby Strong’ after considering many other options, because we feel the library adds so much to the community,” said Burner. “Without it, Darby would lose a bit of its special quality. A strong library definitely makes a strong town.”
Library Director Wendy Campbell said that the levy is intended to cover basic operating costs of the facility, which have grown to exceed the current revenue base.
“We are hoping to stabilize the budget, so that we can operate the library, and cover facility costs and administration of library services,” said Campbell. Existing property tax and “intergovernmental revenue” including support from state and local governments, covers only 70% of the library’s operating and program costs. The library relies on one-time gifts, grants, and ongoing fundraising to cover the other 30% of those basic costs; with the levy, those expenses would be securely funded, and donations and grants could be dedicated to improvements or unforeseen, one-time costs.
The library operates on an annual budget of just under $100,000.
The levy would be permanent, as is the current levy that already raises five mills. Since opening in 2004, the costs of running the library have increased significantly, while usage has skyrocketed more than 150% by every measure. This levy is the first request for additional taxpayer funding since the library opened more than a decade ago.
The library is an example of both small-log utilization — in its architecture — and small-town determination. The library fulfills the traditional function of providing access to books on shelves, for educational and recreational reading alike, but it also provides digital and physical access to millions of books and documents, online and via interlibrary loans. It offers 14 well-utilized computer stations, wi-fi access for personal devices, and a meeting room for groups ranging from AA to book clubs—all free to patrons.
Library staff provide professional guidance on how best to utilize all those resources.
“It is a source of pride to Darby residents, where out-of-town guests are brought to see the anchor of our community, and a testament to what a community can build when people work together to improve their quality of life,” said Campbell.
“The library is one of the last great places of common ground where everyone is welcome to learn, explore, and connect with others in the community and beyond,” she added.
Currently, the library is open five days a week, providing pre-school story time, a safe after-school learning place for children (with STEM and other classes), as well as lifelong learning opportunities for patrons of all ages. They even host events, including a Cowboy Poetry gathering, and an annual Easter Egg hunt.
Failure to pass the levy would likely result in cuts to hours of operation and to staff. Building maintenance and materials acquisition would be curtailed as well, depending on the availability of grants and donations.
For information on the Darby Public Library, contact Campbell at 821-4771. For more information on the mill levy campaign, contact Burner at 821-0083, visit their Facebook page, or on the web at https://voteyesfordarbylibrary.wordpress.com/.