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Special tax for library sought

Albany -- Dedicated funding would improve offerings, proponents say

By LYDIA POLGREEN, Staff writer
First published: Saturday, December 8, 2001
Facing stagnant city funding, the Albany Public Library wants to create an independent library district with the power to tax, following the model of several suburban communities in the Capital Region and around the state.

"We have simply outgrown the city's ability to fund us,'' Jeffrey Cannell, the library's director, told the Council of Albany Neighborhood Associations this week.

Over the last 10 years, he said, the budget has been strained by inflation and a growth in services. The library is an independent nonprofit organization that gets more than half of its $4 million budget from City Hall each year. But the city's contribution has hovered at about $2 million for the past decade, hampering the library in recruiting and improving technology.

While wealthier suburban districts spend as much as $90 a person on libraries, the city spends only $20 per person, the bare minimum recommended by the Board of Regents.

Cannell said the library will seek voter approval for a library district when the next school budget comes up for a vote next May.

If the district is approved, residents would elect a board of trustees and would vote on the library's budget in the same manner as school district budgets.

Districts have brought well-funded libraries to places like Bethlehem, Guilderland and Saratoga Springs. But they have proved a harder sell in cash-strapped, high-tax cities and poor rural areas. Troy rejected one in 1990.

Cannell's pitch to the Council of Albany Neighborhoods got a mixed reception, with several people saying that a new tax would never be approved, especially as school taxes rise to pay for the $174 million facilities plan.

"This would mean an increase in property taxes and this would be the worst year to do that,'' said Scott Wexler, chairman of the Albany School Board.

Voters are likely to approve a plan if it is explained properly, said Common Council President Helen Desfosses, a former library trustee.

"If we put this forward in terms of savings to the city budget on the one hand and the benefits of a carefully calibrated spending plan for a city library district on the other, i think that we could explain how this would redound to the overall good of the city,'' Desfosses said.