With a flattering community survey in hand, an apparent abundance of citizen goodwill and a tax-hike question that wouldn’t have made a noticeable dent in local property tax bills, you might not have faulted the North Riverside Public Library District’s Board of Trustees from feeling confident going into the March 15 primary election.
But when the votes rolled in, trustees were left wondering what went wrong. Unofficially, the library district’s referendum to raise taxes in order to fund future capital improvements failed by a 56 percent to 44 percent margin.
“Quite frankly, I am disappointed. I was surprised by the negative response,” said library board President Annette Corgiat.
The library had sent out a community newsletter outlining the proposal, which called for a 29-percent property tax limiting rate increase. While it might have appeared that such a hike would have been a costly addition to tax bills, part of the library’s pitch was that the increase would essentially replace a levy residents had been paying for the past 20 years
Two decades ago, the library board sold $2.5 million in bonds to fund the construction of the library. Taxpayers paid off that debt at the end of 2015.
With that levy coming off the books and with an almost 20-year-old building beginning to show its age, the library board felt the time was right to ask residents to think about funding ongoing maintenance of and capital improvements to the property.
If successful, the tax hike was expected to bring in about $270,000 in additional revenue annually. The money was to be steered to a special capital projects fund. By 2025, the fund would have collected about $2 million.
The money was to have been used to repair sidewalks outside the library and replace the library’s roof and heating and air-conditioning systems, among other things.
Now the library board is going to have to alter its timetables for making those improvements.
“At this point, we’ll have to meet [as a board] about what to do going forward,” Corgiat said. “We’ll have to live with some things until we set aside a certain amount of money and go for repairs.”
According to the unofficial vote totals tallied by the Cook County Clerk, the referendum question failed in all five of North Riverside’s precincts, with the two of the biggest margins of defeat coming in the village’s two largest precincts — Proviso Township Precinct 102 (everything west of 9th Avenue) and Riverside Township Precinct 13 (bounded by Cermak Road, 24th Street, Burr Oak Avenue and 9th Avenue).
In Proviso 102, voters cast negative ballots at a 58 percent clip. In Riverside 13, which is home to the library property, votes opposing the referendum outpaced supporting votes by a 57 percent to 43 percent margin.
The latter result was also the same margin of defeat in Riverside Precinct 7 (which is bounded by First Avenue, 9th Avenue, 24th Street and 26th Street. It’s the village’s second smallest precinct.
The question fared best in the village’s smallest precinct, Riverside Precinct 12, which covers the area of the village south of 25th Street, west of Park Avenue. The measure there went down to defeat by a 53 percent to 47 percent.
Voter turnout in the March 15 primary was brisk, especially compared to the presidential primary in 2012. According to the Cook County Clerk, 56 percent of registered voters cast a ballot in the election (though not everyone cast a vote on the referendum question). In 2012, voter turnout in suburban Cook County hovered around 24 percent.
Corgiat said the library board may consider another referendum push in the future — one they’ll be a little more aggressive in pushing out to residents. While Corgiat appeared at a meeting of the Neighborhood Services Committee and personally called and emailed residents to present the library’s case, she acknowledged that the touch this time around may have been too soft.
“We will come out of this all right,” Corgiat said. “We’re just going to have to do heavier campaigning next time.”