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
"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
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