Library to survey public opinion

Saturday, September 15, 2007 | 5:33 p.m. CDT; updated 6:10 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 12, 2008

COLUMBIA — Five months after voters knocked down a proposal to raise property taxes to fund the creation of two new libraries in Boone County, members of the Daniel Boone Regional Library Board of Trustees still wonders why the public overwhelmingly said “no.”

More than 73 percent of voters in the April 3 election said no to a proposed 21-cent increase in the library district’s property tax levy. The increase would have paid for branch libraries in Ashland and at the Boone County Fairgrounds.

In the aftermath of the vote, the Daniel Boone Regional Library’s board wants to move forward with long-range planning, but members first want to gain a better understanding of the public mindset, they say.

After the election, the board held public forums and meetings with community leaders to gauge public opinion, said board member Tom Richards. As chairman of the election review committee, Richards oversaw those efforts and now will lead a new one: a random survey of 3,600 households in the Columbia Library District, the Boone County Library District and the Callaway County Library District, all of which are part of the Daniel Boone Regional Library System.

The tax increase would have applied only to residents of the Boone County Library District, even if they did not live near the proposed branch libraries. The current property tax to support the Boone County Library District is 29.86 cents. If voters had agreed to the 21-cent increase, after 10 years the tax would have been reduced by 4 cents, still 17 cents higher than the current tax levy.

After interviewing five firms that offered to do the survey, the board’s election review committee chose ETC Institute to administer the survey and to compile and analyze the results. The board will pay ETC about $25,000, Chris Tatham, ETC vice president, said. Kansas-based ETC has previously conducted polls for the Jefferson City School District.

The survey will ask for voters’ views on library services, including the “perceived need for new library services and facilities,” Tatham said. The survey will also ask residents how much of a tax increase they’d be willing to pay for library services and facilities, and potential locations for those services and facilities.

The company guarantees at least 400 completed surveys from each area, or a total of 1,200 completed household surveys, with a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent, Tatham told the library board on Thursday night.

The survey, which will be done by mail and follow-up phone calls, will map the addresses of respondents, Tatham said. That way, the library board can gauge the opinions of Columbia, Boone County and Callaway County library patrons separately. The survey will target voters but also provide a good representation of the ethnic, racial and gender composition of the polled areas, he said.

“There’s a variety of things we can do in a variety of ways,” library spokeswoman Kris Farris said. The survey results will help them understand “the most efficient and effective ways to deliver those services.”

Polling will begin in early October, and the Daniel Boone Regional Library Board will receive results in early November, Tatham said.

“You hired us to give you good information,” Tatham said Thursday.

The library board had a group from MU conduct a public survey last fall, before the election. That survey asked general questions, Richards said.

The ETC survey will be more specific and also ask the public about its satisfaction with library services, he said. He hopes the survey will help determine whether the board should return to the ballot for approval of a new library.

“We need to do whatever the voters want us to do,” Richards said.

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