Skip to Main Content
New York State Library Logo

Public Library District Toolkit: Strategies to Assure your Library’s Legal and Financial Stability

The School District Vote (259.1) 

Association and Municipal Libraries that do not wish to go through the process of changing their legal structure to take advantage of the public library district model, or wish to take a first step in the process of more fully engaging their entire community in the support of their library, may wish to explore placing a funding proposition on the school district ballot(s) of the area(s) they serve. The school district ballot is a straightforward process available to any public or association library in the State.

New York State Education Law § 259(1)external link opens in a new window provides public libraries in New York State (including Association Libraries) with the ability to place a funding proposition on a school district ballot. This process often requires that the library board simply pass a resolution notifying the school board that it wants to place a funding proposition on the ballot for the upcoming school district election. However, local school districts may require a formal petition processexternal link opens in a new window for the first library vote. Each school board must adopt a formal petition process (Educ. Law § 2035(2)external link opens in a new window) so it is critical to determine and follow that policy. Thereafter, the Library Board must submit their request formally in writing to the School Board.

It is important to approach the school district as a partner in this effort and to maintain open and positive communications. Be certain to meet the school district’s deadlinesexternal link opens in a new window, conform to their requirements and word the proposition to ensure that the library tax is an annual allocation. With a properly worded ballot, the amount collected for the library will continue from year to year until the library board requests another proposition to increase the amount. The school district cannot deny the library’s request to place the proposition on the ballot. That said, a solid relationship with open communication is ideal for a successful vote.

If the proposition passes, the school district must collect the taxes and pay them to the library in a timely fashion. If two or more libraries are located within the school district, there could be one proposition on the ballot that includes the individual amounts for the individual libraries or two propositions on the ballot, one for each library.

Steps for Getting your Budget on a School District Ballot

  1. Representatives from the library obtain information from the school district regarding the process and timeline for petitioning the school board to place a funding proposition on the ballot for the library.
  2. The library board determines an amount of funding to be requested on the ballot by developing a realistic and justifiable budget. In determining the amount, the library board should consider the economic and political conditions within the community but must remember that the financial well-being of the library is their first priority. By placing a proposition on the ballot, the library board is simply providing voters with an opportunity to determine how much to tax themselves for library services for their community. The library board is not raising taxes themselves.
  3. Once the library board determines the amount to be requested, the board passes a resolution to request that the school district place the funding proposition on the next school district ballot. If the school district requires a formal petition process (Educ. Law § 2035(2)external link opens in a new window) it is critical to determine and follow that policy.
  4. Before approaching the school district, it is critical that the library board first contact the local municipalities currently funding the library to explain the library’s intentions in so far as seeking additional funding to supplement the municipality’s support; or in the event the library is seeking full funding through this method, their support and assurance that municipal financial support will continue if the library’s budget vote fails. Even if the proposition passes, it may be necessary for the municipality to provide some “bridge funding” to cover cash flow needs during a gap between the passage of the resolution and the date that taxes are collected and turned over to the library.
  5. A representative of the library should contact the superintendent of schools and/or the president of the school board to inform them of the library’s intentions. Though the school district cannot legally deny the library board’s request, it would be helpful to have the district leadership’s public support, or at least its neutrality, regarding the library proposition. If a school district expresses opposition to the library’s request, the library should contact their system for advice on how to proceed.
  6. The library board formally requests that the library funding proposition be placed on the next school district ballot by submitting a letter and/or the signed petition and the proposed wording for the funding proposition to the president of the school board. It is important to ensure that the wording of the proposition guarantees that the budget amount approved will continue on an annual basis. The library board is entitled to specify the exact wording to be used on the ballot provided it is legally valid (see sample proposition wording below).
  7. The library proposition will show up as a separate measure on the school ballot. Sample proposition: "Shall the proposition be approved authorizing the Board of Education of the X School District to levy taxes annually in the amount of two hundred thousand dollars ($200,000) and to pay over such monies to the trustees of the Y Public Library…"
  8. The school board has the right to set the time and place for the vote; usually it will coincide with the next school district election. However, the library may request the vote to be held in the library on a separate date. The library should discuss this with school district officials early on in the process and make a formal written request that the election be held in the library. Though the school district is under no obligation to comply with the request, school district officials may find it is in their best interest to keep the library budget vote separate from the school district budget vote. However, the school district can request reimbursement for any expenses incurred.
  9. The library board and appropriate working committees conduct a campaign to educate the community. No public funds can be used to advocate for the proposition. However, library support organizations such as the Friends of the Library can use private funds for advocacy. Click here for more information on educational and advocacy campaigns.
  10. If the proposition passes, the school district will collect taxes and turn them over to the library.
  11. The amount authorized for library services will show up as a separate line on tax bills.

The Municipal Vote (Ch. 414) 

Association and Municipal Libraries that do not wish to go through the process of changing their legal structure to take advantage of the public library district model, or utilize a school district vote as detailed above, may wish to explore placing a funding proposition on the local municipality’s ballot(s) of the area(s) they serve.

Chapter 414 of the New York State Laws of 1995 (Education Law 259(1)(b)external link opens in a new window) provided public libraries in New York State (including association libraries) with the ability to place a funding proposition on a municipal ballot. The library must obtain signatures from registered voters within the municipality on a petition requesting that a library-funding proposition be placed before the voters at the next municipal election. The number of signatures at the time of publication must equal at least 10 percent of the number of votes cast in the last gubernatorial election. If the petitions are properly executed and filed, the municipality must comply. If the proposition passes, the municipality must collect the taxes and pay them to the library. With a properly worded ballot, the amount collected by the library will continue from year to yearexternal link opens in a new window until the library board requests another proposition to change the amount.

Steps for Getting on the Municipal Ballot

  1. No later than the first quarter of the calendar year, representatives from the library meet with the local Board of Elections or municipal clerk to discuss the requirements and timeline for placing a proposition on the municipal ballot.
  2. It is advisable for the library board to appoint one person to lead the effort and form appropriate working committees to carry out specific assignments.
  3. The library board contacts local municipalities (especially those that are currently funding the library) to inform them of the library’s intentions, answer questions about the process and to obtain their support and assurance that municipal financial support will continue if the library’s budget vote fails. It is important to explain that the library’s pursuit of this option will not impact the town’s tax cap [2].
  4. The library board determines an amount of funding to be requested on the ballot by developing a realistic and justifiable budget. In determining the amount, the library board should consider the economic and political conditions within the community but must remember that the financial well-being of the library is their first priority. By placing a proposition on the ballot, the library board is simply providing voters with an opportunity to determine how much to tax themselves for library services for their community. The library board is not raising taxes themselves.
  5. The library board/working committee(s) obtains the required number of signatures of registered voters on a petition supporting the budget proposition (at least 10 percent of the number of votes cast in the last gubernatorial election).
  6. The library board must go on the record by passing a resolution supporting the budget proposition. (This is a protection built into the law to ensure that propositions to reduce the amount of funding for the library cannot go forward without library board approval.)
  7. The library verifies the petition signatures to ensure validity (voter lists can be obtained from the local Board of Elections).
  8. Petitions (proposition and signatures) are filed with the municipal clerk, (meeting minimum lead-time requirements) who then files them with the Board of Elections.
  9. The vote on the library-funding proposition is scheduled to take place at the next general municipal election.
  10. The library board and appropriate working committees conduct a campaign to educate the community and advocate for passage of the proposition. No public funds can be used to advocate for the proposition. However, library support organizations such as the Friends of the Library can use private funds for advocacy. Click here for more information on educational and advocacy campaigns.
  11. If the proposition passes, the municipality collects the taxes and turns them over to the library.
  12. It is advised that the library request that the amount authorized for library services be shown as a separate line on tax bills.
  13. The amount collected will continue from year to year until another proposition is placed on the ballot to change the amount. To change the amount, the entire process (collecting and verifying signatures, etc.) must be repeated.

Note: Inch by Inch, Row by Row: Using the Municipal Ballot Option in Education Law 259 (1)(b) to Obtain Sustainable Funding for Your Library [Third Edition (2020)], a detailed handbook on pursuing a municipal ballot vote which answers many questions about the process, timeline, and petitioning is included as an Appendix.


2. See page 2: Real Property Tax Cap Information – Frequently Asked Questionsexternal link opens in a new window