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

Home Rule Message for Special or Consolidated Library Districts

When a library board or group of library supporters requests their State Legislators to introduce a bill to create a Special Legislative Library District they are often asked to obtain a “Home Rule Message” from the local municipality. However, this is not required since the library is an Education Corporationexternal link opens in a new window under New York State law.

Nonetheless, legislators and local municipalities often insist on a “Home Rule” message in order to support the Library’s efforts and it will be necessary for the Library to convince their local officials that establishing the new library is in their, and the community’s best interests. Such an educational effort is essential throughout the process in any event.

Background: Article IX of the New York State Constitutionexternal link opens in a new window grants local governments certain rights with respect to the control of laws affecting property and affairs of local government. Section 40 of Article 5external link opens in a new window of the New York State Statutes specifies the process that is required to enact specific laws that may have an impact on local government. The section of the law is entitled “Municipal Home Rule.”

When a bill is introduced in the Assembly or Senate, it is automatically reviewed by Home Rule Counsel in each house to determine whether a home rule message is required. In the case of the creation of public library districts, a home rule message is not necessary because libraries are deemed to be educational entities and therefore exempt by the state constitution from home rule message requirements.

However, that being said, local legislators introducing the bill may still require some indication that the legislation will not be opposed by local governments within their district. Thus they often require their own “home rule” message prior to introducing the bill. Each legislator determines where that message needs to come from. The format for the message, if required, varies from municipality to municipality. In some cases it may just be a letter from the Town Supervisor and in others it may be a formal resolution on the part of the Town Board.

It is advised that a library board keep their municipal leaders in the loop on this effort and to have clear talking points about why the transition to a district is in the best interests of the community. If you find you need to request a letter of home rule from your municipality it should not be the first time the municipal leaders are hearing of this effort.