Natrona County isn't alone in its push to raise revenue for a new or refurbished library. The Converse County libraries in Douglas and Glenrock are due for makeovers, officials and supporters say. Voters will decide Nov. 6 if they want a temporary 1-cent tax to raise revenue for the renovations.
Debates about the cost of the renovations have not had the ad nauseum discourse like Natrona County. But there are still plenty of critics.
"They always say you're spending too much," said Karen Hopkins, Converse County Library System director.
The ballot in Converse County will ask residents to vote yea or nay on a measure that will raise $22.4 million in five years to renovate two buildings, quadrupling their combined square footage.
"All of the negative comments are coming from people who say it's costing more money than it should," Hopkins said. "They don't realize that it's two buildings."
Food and a number of other items will be exempt from the 1-cent addition to the sales tax, and a majority of the revenue will come from the energy industry, she added.
The Converse County Commission agreed to a provision to buy bonds that will pay for the reconstruction now. County officials say the tax revenues will repay the money used for the bonds in five years -- if voters are in favor of the measure on Election Day.
Supporters say the need for renovations has been apparent since the 1980s. There have been several attempts to get measures on ballots, but economic busts put those plans on hold, Hopkins said.
"It's been bursting out of the seams," Hopkins said of the Douglas library. She added that the library is 25 percent of the size necessary to meet the need of the population. "If 100 people were in here, I am sure it wouldn't meet fire code," she said.
The lack of space in both Converse County buildings inhibits library users and their access to materials, Hopkins said. There are no meeting rooms, so programs are held in the middle of the building, blocking patrons from certain materials. Adults, teenagers and children share computers and are sometimes exposed to inappropriate content.
"I've always thought the library is the heart of a community," Hopkins said.
Laramie County success
The fight to build and renovate libraries is nothing new in the state. The Laramie County Public Library faced strong anti-tax opposition during a decade-long struggle to get a new building. Today it is a bastion of literacy and economic development.
More than 6,000 students and adults signed up for the summer reading program and 1,200 pre-kindergarteners were enrolled in a literacy program that prepared them for grade school, said Lucie Osborn, the county librarian. The computer center has transformed into a place where library staff assists citizens who are job-hunting. The facility helped to sell a small business owner on the idea of making Cheyenne the new home for his company, Osborn said.
Osborn faced opposition from a group of citizens whose moniker was COST, or Citizens Opposed to Spendthrift Taxation.
“Individuals thought the 38,000 square-foot building was enough and that everything was on the Internet and that there was no need for a library,” Osborn said.
After a decade of trying, the library and its planning committee got the temporary 1-cent tax on the ballot in 2003. Osborn said former opponents apologized to her after it was built.
The "master stroke" of getting library renovations in Fremont County was pairing the library renovation for Lander with a new hospice on the ballot, said Barbara Gose, Fremont County Public Library board member. "That diffused the county sniping," she said.
Gose wasn't on the board when the measure passed in 2006 but was a big supporter of the temporary 1-cent tax.
The measure passed before the economy slipped and was met with limited opposition.
"Whatever opposition was there was individualized -- just fiscal conservatives saying, 'Don't spend money on anything,'" Gose said.
Natrona County residents will vote Nov. 6 on a temporary 1-cent sales tax that would raise revenues for a new library. One of the biggest fears from critics at public discussions about the plan is that the tax is permanent. It’s not.
“By law it must go away,” said Bill Nelson, director of Natrona County Public Library. “If it doesn’t, someone must go to jail.”
Once the tax accrues a total of $29.7 million for construction and a sinking fund to cover anticipated increases in operations costs, the tax is to be terminated, according to the Wyoming Revised Code.
"It's frustrating that people don't understand that," said John Masterson, a Casper lawyer and chairman of the Citizens for the Library political action committee.
Private donations to the Natrona County Public Library Foundation paid for the 5.4 acres on the corner of Elm and Second streets that will house the 83,000-square-foot building. Should Natrona County sales tax revenues stay at current rates, taxpayers would raise the $29.7 million in 18 months.