Last week a narrow majority of Brookfield voters rejected a proposal rejected a proposal to borrow $10.3 million to build a new library across the street from the current library.
Unofficially, 52.77 percent of voters voted against issuing bonds to build a new library. In raw numbers, the referendum proposal was rejected by a margin of 505 votes with 4,808 votes against the proposal and 4,303 voters in favor.
Library officials weren’t saying much after the referendum result.
“The board needs time to digest the results and chart a path forward,” said Brookfield Library board President Jennifer Perry in an email.
The village board-approved plans for a new library will remain in effect until March of 2020 and can be extended by another year at the library’s request, so there’s plenty of time to try again to pass a referendum in the future.
“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,” said Samantha Fisher, the co-chairwoman of the group Brookfield Residents Championing a New Library.
The soonest the library board could try again is April 2017, the time of municipal and school board elections. However, Brookfield-LaGrange Park Elementary School District 95 will have a referendum on the ballot at that time, asking voters to issue bonds, which will raise property taxes, for school expansion.
It is unclear if the library board will want to ask voters to vote on a referendum while they are also voting on a school referendum.
Last week, voters in southwest Brookfield voted on both a Brookfield-LaGrange Elementary District 102 referendum voted, which narrowly passed, and the library referendum. A few voters told the Landmark they voted for the school referendum but against the library referendum saying that schools were more important.
“I would just rather see tax dollars go to the schools,” said one woman who declined to give her name after voting yes on the District 102 referendum but no on the library referendum.
Those anecdotal statement appear to be borne out by the numbers in Lyons Township precincts 4, 6 and 45, which are either partly or wholly within District 102. The library question lost in all three precincts, but it was favored in precincts 2 and 67, which are not part of the school district.
An expensive village referendum to fund road improvements was passed in March and, many Brookfield residents were just not ready to add again to their tax bill.
If the library board decides not to try again in the spring the next opportunity to pass a referendum would be in 2018 at either the primary or general election.
Meanwhile, the library continues to own the vacant piece of land just across Lincoln Avenue from the present facility. The library bought the land from the Brookfield United Methodist Church in 2012 for just under $600,000. The decaying church building was quickly torn down and the land has been vacant since then.
The plan was to build new 32,000-square-foot library at a cost of about $14 million. The library has about $4 million saved up in reserve fund to put toward the cost.
Yes votes eked out a narrow 35 vote majority in the Lyons Township part of Brookfield, the southern half of Brookfield, powered by solid majorities in two southeastern Brookfield precincts, the only two precincts in Brookfield where yes votes were in the majority.
But in rest of Brookfield, the no votes predominated. In the Proviso Township part of Brookfield, the northern half of the town, nearly 55 percent of voters voted no. In the Hollywood neighborhood 56 percent of voters said no.
“We just can’t afford any new taxes,” said Annamarie Rodney after voting against the referendum question at S.E. Gross School.
Rodney grew up in Brookfield but said that rising taxes are driving her and her siblings to consider moving out of town. Rodney said that 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.”
Some voters questioned the need for a 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 Hollywood resident Daniel Grigoletti after voting no. “You don’t need to spend $10 million on a new bricks and mortar shop for books.”
Supporters of the new library waged a vigorous campaign, spending about $12,000 and putting up plenty of yard signs. They sent canvassers out every weekend for about two months, trying the convince residents to vote yes. They promoted yes votes on social media and produced a slick, humorous video to spread the message that a new library was needed but it wasn’t enough.
Yes voters believed that a new library is needed and said that they were willing to pay for it.
“Our library is not comparable to any other one in the neighborhood,” said Chris Prokop, a young 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.”
Library Director Kimberly Coughran has been pushing for a new library for the past 10 years. A previous plan to build a new library at Arden and Washington avenues fell apart when one owner of a home the library needed to purchase would not sell.
The library was stuck with one home that it had already purchased and, in the wake of the real estate crash, had to rent out the home for six years before finally selling the home for about $100,000 less than it paid for it in 2007.