Millstadt library issue on ballot

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An expansion of Millstadt’s library district is among the biggest local questions in Tuesday’s primary election.

The vote will decide whether to annex districts surrounding Millstadt into the existing library district as well as if the planned new library facility will receive the desired funding to be built.

Annexation would provide the library with the tax base to meet requirements for a grant from the State of Illinois and Illinois State Library. This would provide the necessary funds for the new building without creating a tax increase for those already in the district.

Millstadt Library Director Nichole Lauko said an expansion of the district as well as the new facility have been discussed among the library board for some time.

Lauko added the reason to seek annexation now is to provide an expansion of library services to those who might be joining the district. With the existing library’s limited capabilities as they are, a new library would be able to offer far more.

“With this annexation, the actual goal is to serve more people, get more resources into more hands,” Lauko said. “And with the additional revenue we would also be able to attain this matching grant that we were awarded.”

The new building, Lauko said, would feature an overall expansion and improvement to facilities as well as study rooms, one large meeting room and another room intended as a maker space.

It would be a significant step up from current facilities, which Lauko described as being dark, cramped and packed to the ceiling with document storage. Specific concerns she cited included  the absence of bathrooms  ­— the only facilities are in the connected village building — and a lack of space for events and organizations to gather.

The proposition has faced a deal of criticism and pushback, particularly on social media, where a Facebook page was created to express resident protests of the upcoming vote.

One complaint argues that the new library — which would cost a total of roughly $4 million factoring in the desired state grant — isn’t worth it given a reported library card registration of just over 400.

Lauko said that figure isn’t necessarily reflective of typical library usage, however, as registration can fluctuate significantly throughout the year – with over 800 patrons in a good month.

“Our usage rates are actually quite higher than they would imagine,” Lauko said. “And for our programming, we are at standing room only almost every day. It’s not something that we just decided we need a new building or we need to annex more people. It’s a serious need.”

Philip “Mike” Riede is president of a home owners association in Millstadt and one of the more vocal opponents of the annex. He  said another issue with the proposition is that the vote, from his understanding, won’t be clear.

“The problem is in Millstadt, there are no distinct precincts,” Riede said. “I live in Precinct 1 and Precinct 1 has voters in both the unincorporated (area) and in the village, so there’s no way to determine who is who when you go to vote. When my ballot drops in the box, nobody knows whether I live in the village or don’t.”

St. Clair County Clerk Thomas Holbrook said this concern was unfounded, adding, “We have a way of knowing the difference.”

Holbrook said the four precincts that are neither all in nor all out  — Millstadt 1, 2, 4 and 5 — will be set up to differentiate votes on the library issue.

“In those four precincts we will have separate machines and have their voting applications on separate spindles segregated between in the district and out of the district,” Holbrook said.

Still another argument from opponents is that the whole process was “rushed” merely in an attempt to meet a June 30 deadline for the state grant.

Lauko said that while the process was more accelerated than the library board would have liked, the annexation had been discussed for some time and funds for the library to meet the grant couldn’t have been met through fundraising alone.

Lauko said had the board known about the amount of negative feedback it would receive surrounding this annexation, it might not have done it. 

Ultimately, the fair way to decide is through a vote, she said.

“I know that there are people that may not want this but there are people that do want this, and the only fair way to access everyone on this is a vote,” Lauko said.

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