A narrow majority of Brookfield voters have apparently decided that they can live without a new library.
With all 12 precincts reporting, vote totals show that the library’s bid to borrow $10 million to build a new library was defeated by 505 votes. Some absentee votes remain to be counted and the results are unofficial, but the result seems unlikely to change.
A total of 4,808 voters (52.77 percent) voted against the proposal while 4,303 voters (47.23 percent) voted in favor of issuing the bonds.
The plan was to build new 32,000-square-foot library across the street from the current 13,000-square-foot library. The proposed new library would have cost about $14 million to build, but the library has about $4 million saved up in reserve fund.
A slim majority were simply not willing to pay more in taxes for a bigger, newer, nicer library.
“We just can’t afford any new taxes,” said Annamarie Rodney after voting against the library referendum question at S.E. Gross School on Nov. 8.
Rodney grew up in Brookfield but said that rising taxes are driving her and her siblings to consider moving out of town. Rodney said she owns a 1,000-square-foot house and pays about $7,000 in property taxes.
“My family has lived in Brookfield for 50 years and at this point, our entire family, me and my four siblings, feel like we can’t even afford the taxes here and we’re looking to move to other places and it’s really disappointing,” Rodney said. “I’m a special ed teacher and I own my own business, and I should be able to afford the taxes here.”
Other “no” voters questioned the need for larger, new building to house books in the age of the Internet.
“I’m a teacher of computer science and I know that access to content in books does not require four walls,” said Daniel Grigoletti of the Hollywood neighborhood after voting no on the library referendum. “You don’t need to spend $10 million on a new bricks and mortar shop for books.”
Another voter at Gross said that the current library is adequate.
“I voted no because it’s too much money and I feel like we have a very good library there that’s been working for years and years,” said a woman who declined to give her name after voting at Gross. “Figure out a way to make it work.”
The referendum seemed to have a tough time in southwest Brookfield where a school referendum for LaGrange-Brookfield Elementary School District 102 was also on the ballot. Several voters at Congress Park School told the Landmark that they voted for the school referendum, but against the library referendum.
“I would just rather see tax dollars go to the schools,” said one woman who declined to give her name after voting at Congress Park.
Andy DiGangi, 28, also said that he thought the library was fine as it is and that money could be better spent elsewhere.
“I thought the library was decent enough, and I actually really enjoyed going there and there’s much more that could be done in Brookfield than a new library,” DiGangi said.
The referendum faced a tough challenge coming just a little less than eight months after votes approved a costly bond referendum to repair streets in Brookfield. With a school referendum on the ballot in District 102 and one coming this spring in Brookfield-LaGrange Park Elementary District 95, paying more in taxes for a new library was apparently just a bridge too far for most voters.
Supporters of the new library waged a vigorous campaign, spending about $12,000 and putting up plenty of yard signs. They sent canvassers out for a month or so of weekends spreading the message and promoted yes votes on social media and on their web site. They produced a slick, humorous video to spread the message, but it wasn’t enough.
Samantha Fisher, the co-chair of the group advocating for a new library said that she was grateful for the roughly 75-percent of registered Brookfield voters who cast a vote on the referendum question and said that the library might try again to pass a referendum. That, of course is a question for the library board to determine.
“We’re grateful for the voter turnout that we had and we’re grateful for those who considered this initiative as a vital investment for the community,” Fisher said late Tuesday night. “We know that there is an opportunity for a referendum in the future and we look forward to educating more in the community about this need.”
“Yes” voters said that Brookfield needs a new, better library and said that they are willing to pay for it.
“Our library is not comparable to any other one in the neighborhood,” said Chris Prokop, a middle school teacher who moved to Brookfield two years ago. “I feel like if we’re going to stay competitive with LaGrange, LaGrange Park and Riverside for quality of living we need to have a library that matches that.”
Prokop said that he uses the library a lot for school and the library often does not have what he needs and that he often must drive to other libraries to get what he needs.
“I use the library resources but I often have to go and get other resources from some of the other libraries more often. I’m driving to Berwyn and Downers Grove,” Prokop said.
Gina Prokop, an editor at an educational publisher, said that the current library is very cramped.
“It’s overcrowded,” Gina Prokop said. “I’m constantly stepping over children.”
Rocio Hernandez, a high school Spanish teacher and the mother of three said that she realizes that the additional taxes necessary to pay for a new library is tough to swallow, but she said that it was worth it.
“Anything that makes our community better will actually not only increase our property value but it will also help out the community itself,” Hernandez said after voting yes at the Brookfield Village Hall.
Longtime Brookfield resident also said that having a new library was worth the cost.
“When my kids were young we used the library a lot,” said Gaske after voting at Gross. “Of course I don’t right now, but I have grandchildren and I know the library is important.”