Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2012 | 2 a.m.
Geraldine Brurs left the Paseo Verde Library into the midday heat Tuesday with two audio books in hand. The frequent visitor to Henderson libraries had no idea that two of the system’s six branches will close at the end of the year if a tax initiative on the November ballot does not pass.
Those like Brurs who already use and appreciate the libraries, and are supporters of the property tax increase, are the easy targets.
“Oh, I would definitely vote for the tax,” Brurs said after hearing the details. “The Henderson libraries have already cut back. They are closed on Sundays and their hours are shorter than before. This library is packed all the time.”
Proponents of the initiative see three groups of voters when it comes to the tax initiative, which would increase Henderson property tax by 2 cents per $100 in assessed property value, a $14 annual hike for property worth $200,000. There are the regular library users who are expected to provide strong support; those who will never approve of any new tax, especially during a down economy; and those in between who may support the tax if they are reminded of the value of a community meeting place and research hub.
With the election less than three months away, the campaign has picked up. Imagine Communications, which has worked with the library system in the past on marketing, has provided pro bono marketing advice and designs for posters, bumper stickers and yard signs.
“There are people who will not want to pay a penny more in taxes, and there is nothing you can do or say to get them to vote yes,” said Alex Raffi, creative director at Imagine Communications. “But there are a lot of people out there who understand the value of libraries but don’t realize we’ll be losing two of them if this doesn’t pass. So we asked ourselves: How do we get those people to the booths in November?”
The district receives the majority of its roughly $7 million budget from property taxes. As property values in Henderson have declined during the past four years, funding for the district has dropped from its prerecession budget of nearly $10 million.
Projections indicate Henderson property values will continue to fall through the next few years.
If the initiative 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, said Thomas Fay, Henderson Library District executive director.
The district already has executed some cuts in recent years, including closing on Sundays, reducing hours other days, trimming programming by about 25 percent and laying off nearly a quarter of the staff.
Since 2002, the number of monthly visitors to Henderson libraries has increased from 60,000 to 125,000.
The district has put out an informational flier with the details of the tax initiative, and Fay has made himself available to community groups to explain what the voters are being asked. Fay, though, as an employee of the district, must remain impartial in his presentations.
Raffi said the ads are meant to “interrupt” and “shock” people so they think about the true ramifications of losing libraries.
There are posters that attempt to depict a world without libraries. One shows a girl, head in hands, standing in the middle of a barren desert, surrounded by empty, toppled-over bookshelves and a sign that reads: “Notice: Henderson Library is Permanently Closed.”
The text of the poster reads: “Don’t let this happen: Without your vote libraries will close. Programs and services will be reduced and eliminated. Once this happens, it will be too late to save them.”
There also are yellow-and-black signs that simply state: “Vote Yes on Henderson Libraries Question 1.”
Raffi said the group planned other creative projects to help spread awareness of the Nov. 6 vote. For example, he suggested leaving out-of-circulation library books in local businesses. Anyone picking up the book to see where it is from will find a sticker that explains that the book must be returned “before the library closes.”
A group of Henderson residents also has started a political action committee, Citizens for Henderson Libraries, that has raised approximately $6,000 and is helping to reach any undecided voters.
“Libraries serve the function of promoting reading and literacy, but they are also community places where people get and share information,” said Danielle Miller, a member of the PAC and principal at El Dorado High School. “People access the Internet at libraries. They search for jobs at libraries. There is no other resource in the community like it. I think a lot of people just don’t realize how close they are to closing branches.”
Voters rejected two previous Henderson Library District tax initiatives, in 2001 and 2002, but those proposals were for expansion; the current initiative is designed to maintain the status quo.
“A lot of people don’t know about the initiative,” Raffi said. “And there are people who don’t use libraries but still realize the value. You need to have that outlet in the community where people can use the Internet, do research and get help with their homework. They’re not asking for a lot, and you’ll get a lot back. I get that we are all struggling and nobody wants to pay more taxes, but the value you get back for the cost of basically one bad haircut per year is great. We just picked a bad time to try and convince people of that.”
The last time the library district received a tax rate increase was 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.