Mona Shield Payne / Special to the Sun
Thursday, May 10, 2012 | 2 a.m.
With forecasts predicting further budget cuts on top of previous reductions, the Henderson Library District plans to put a tax initiative on the November ballot to stave off branch closures, reduced hours and layoffs.
The district receives the majority of its roughly $7 million budget from property taxes. As property values in Henderson took a nose dive in the past four years, funding for the district dropped from its prerecession budget of nearly $10 million.
Thomas Fay, Henderson Library District executive director, said projections indicated Henderson property values would continue to fall through the next few years, and the district embarked down the path of a tax initiative after careful consideration.
“I hope people will see it as a reasonable request,” Fay said. “We’re not going for the whole $3 million that the budget has been reduced by. This is what we need to keep the current services. In other cities, libraries have closed due to cuts, and I think the taxpayers and voters have a right to choose.”
The Henderson Library District has the same boundaries as the city, and all registered voters in Henderson will be eligible to vote on the initiative in November. The proposal calls for a tax rate increase of 2 cents per $100 in assessed property value. The owner of a home worth $200,000, for example, would pay an extra $14 per year if the plan is approved.
The increased revenue will only be used to maintain current services and will not go toward expansion or any increases in staff positions, salaries or benefits, Fay said.
If the tax is voted down, Fay said he will be forced to close at least two branches; Galleria Library and Malcolm Library will be shuttered. A third, Heritage Park Library, could also close. He estimated 15 positions would be eliminated.
“Those are the three smallest libraries, and that would be the best plan for maintaining a core of services,” Fay said. “But those libraries are busy and well used.”
Demand for library services increased after the recession pummeled Southern Nevada with layoffs and foreclosures. Visitors and circulation at the district’s six branches jumped as residents used library services to research and apply for jobs, he said.
“A lot of people ended up rediscovering libraries during the recession,” Fay said. “They realize all the services we provide, for adults and children, and they won’t go back to their old ways once they find out what we do have.”
The district already has executed some cuts in recent years, including closing on Sundays, reduced hours other days, cutting programming by about 25 percent and laying off nearly a quarter of the staff.
“Now, if we have someone out on leave — for pregnancy, for example — it’s a struggle to find ways to cover those shifts,” Fay said.
The district opened the James Gibson Library on Lake Mead Parkway in 2010, but despite the appearance of bad timing, Fay said it was a good deal for the district. The new building replaced a property that was sold to the city in 2007, and the library district spent $1.2 million less on construction of the new facility than the sale price of the old property.
The seven-member district board of directors voted unanimously on April 19 to place the tax initiative on the November ballot.
“A tax initiative is not an easy thing to talk about, especially in the Henderson economy,” said board member MJ Maynard, assistant general manager at the Regional Transportation Commission. “This is one of the most challenging economies, but we came to a consensus that the reasoning behind the ballot initiative wasn’t self serving. This isn’t about what would be nice to have. This is mission critical, but of course we are concerned about the timing and sensitive to the residents of Henderson. The economic impact for most will be about $10.50 a year; that’s like two trips to Starbucks.”
In 2001 and 2002, the library district asked Henderson’s voters for tax increases to fund expansion plans, but those were rejected. Fay and the board hope the new initiative to solely maintain current services will fare better, and Maynard said it was incumbent of the district to get information about the tax out to voters.
The district does receive money from donations and fundraisers, including the Friends of Henderson Libraries, but it is not enough to close the budget gap, Fay said. The “1 for a Million” campaign, which asks visitors for $1 donations, ended in April and brought in about $100,000, Fay said, acknowledging that he and the board never truly believed they would raise $1 million in the first year.
The library district last received a tax rate increase in 1991, when Henderson had 65,000 residents. Today, the city has 265,000 residents and the library district property tax rate is lower than the rate for Las Vegas-Clark County, Boulder City and the North Las Vegas library districts. Las Vegas-Clark County’s rate is the highest of the four districts, at 9.42 cents per $100 in assessed property value, while Henderson Library District’s current rate is 5.75 cents per $100.