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The Bitterroot Public Library in Hamilton is gathering petition signatures to place an additional permanent three-mill levy on the June 2 ballot.

The request comes as the library seeks funding to support its operating expenses and allow it to continue serving a growing population in the Bitterroot Valley.

“The library board and I have not taken the idea of asking for additional funding from taxpayers lightly, as we know that any additional tax is a burden for property owners,” said Mark Wetherington Jr., library director. “We are proud that we have not asked for an increase in over 20 years. We discussed our options and looked at other solutions for years before deciding that this was the most responsible course of action for the library.”

The library is funded at 8.9 mills for the current fiscal year. The proposed mill levy will translate into a tax increase of $4.05 per $100,000 of property valuation. The increase will impact property owners in the library’s funding district which includes the school districts of Victor, Corvallis and Hamilton. If approved, the mill levy would provide the library an additional $143,900 per year.

“Hamilton and the surrounding areas have grown significantly over the last 20 years and so has the use of the library,” Wetherington said. “To keep up with increased demand we’ve added staff, doubled the number of computers available to the public, and expanded our budget for books, DVDs and other materials.

“There’s also been the challenge of keeping up with the maintenance of a facility that was built in 1916,” Wetherington continued. “Several large donations over the last decade allowed us to pay for ongoing expenses and new services, like e-books, but we are drawing those donations down and estimate that they’ll run out by 2022.”

The library expanded its operating hours in 2018 to open earlier and stay open later on more days based on patron feedback. In recent years the library has invested in improvements to the accessibility and efficiency of the building, including a roof over the access ramp, automatic doors at ramp entrances, and LED lighting which has decreased electricity costs by 20%. The library needs to replace its roof in 2020, which is estimated to cost over $50,000.

In addition to books, DVDs, and other materials the library provides assistance with job applications and searches, wireless internet access 24-hours a day, weekly free programs for children, families and adults, as well as a large community room with wireless internet and a media center that the public can reserve. It also provides access to materials at other Montana libraries through membership in the Montana Shared Catalog, free tax forms and exam proctoring.

Nansu Roddy has served as the library's public services librarian for the last 34 years.

Roddy believes providing the public with access to technology has been an important contribution of the library. Ten public computers, a scanner, printer and copy machine are available at the library and are well-used by the public. Access to the internet is also provided free of charge at the library.

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Public services special programming has included numerous cooking demonstrations from local chefs, Christmas craft classes, film festivals and beer brewing classes. Ongoing adult programming includes a writer’s club, Socrates Café, monthly book club and a weekly coloring club. All of these programs are open to the public.

“The public library is the community space where people come together to learn and connect,” said Youth Services Librarian Wendy Campbell. “Libraries provide common ground for all community members including children. A parent told me that the programs for young children were especially important for their family because she said, ‘it helps my children develop by learning to follow directions and play with other children. [It also] gets me out of the house and around other adults with kids.’”

Youth services programming offered by the library include weekly story times, special family events, afterschool programs, a teen writing club, early literacy focused programs, monthly music and movement classes and school field trips.

“With a successful mill levy, we would be able to better plan for the future and expand on what we already do that people value,” said Wetherington. “Without sustainable funding, we would eventually have to reduce services, reduce hours and ultimately reduce what we can provide to the community. We want to keep moving forward with our community as it grows and do everything we can to keep serving our community’s needs and interests.”

Volunteers will be gathering the 800 required verified signatures to place the levy on the ballot in the community. The petition is also available to sign Monday through Friday at Chapter One Book Store in Hamilton. Petition deadline is Feb. 20. For additional information about the proposed mill levy please contact the library at 406-363-1670.

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