Commonwealth Journal

November 1, 2012

Q&A forum on library tax being held tonight

Petition to dissolve taxing district could close library

by Heather Tomlinson
Commonwealth Journal

Somerset —  

Parties on both sides of the debate over the library’s special taxing district are reaching out to the public through an informal question-and-answer forum. 
Members of the public are invited to a meeting at the Pulaski County Public Library tonight at 6 p.m. to hear a discussion on both sides of a debate over the library board’s special taxing district — and its perceived lack of oversight — and efforts by some to dissolve the board in hopes of re-creating it under the county’s purview. 
“We’re hoping to answer some questions that we have been hearing out in the public that the people are concerned about,” said Charlotte Keeney, director for the library.
Members of a group that has circulated a petition seeking enough signatures to dissolve the special library taxing district— which is not overseen by Pulaski County Fiscal Court or any other county entity — are expected at the meeting as well.
“I just think it’s a good idea for us to sit down and talk,” said Barbara Sanders, who has been outspoken about the library board’s recent tax increases and who began the petition drive. 
The board accepted for the 2012-2013 year what’s called a compensating tax rate, calculated to be 6.40 cents per $100 of real property, up from 6.30 cents last year. That means a person who owns property assessed at $100,000 would pay around $64. Tax rates for personal property also went up a bit (7.65 to 7.66 cents). 
The compensating rate will give the district roughly the same amount of revenue as it received the year before through tax collections. That compensating rate is determined by property values as recorded by the Pulaski County PVA Office. Property values went down slightly, which means the library board had to enact a higher tax rate to get the same amount of money. 
The library tax rate increased in 2009 to 6 cents per $100 of real property, and that rate stayed the same in 2010. It increased in 2011 to 6.30 cents per $100 and that rate went up to 6.4 cents for this year. 
The solution to out-of-control tax hikes, the petition group is saying, is to dissolve the board and reform it under the direct authority of fiscal court. 
But the board and its attorney, Bruce Orwin, are saying the solution isn’t that simple. 
Information provided to the board from the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives (KDLA) suggests that the board would cease to function in the aftermath of a petition to dissolve the district — except only to repay the library’s debt. The department also stated that, in its opinion, the library building and all of its assets (including books, computers, furniture and more) would be sold off to settle the debt. 
 The library’s debt, much of it extending from the construction of the current building, which began operations in 2008, stands at about $9,507,830, according to Keeney. 
An Attorney General opinion (OAG 79-102) also states a library tax would still exist until the debt is paid off. State law also forbids the creation of a second special district while the first district is still in existence. So, essentially, a board under authority of fiscal court could not be created until the library’s debts are paid off, at which point the first board would be completely dissolved. 
Sanders said she intends to raise questions about the library’s debt, which she says has ballooned far above what the construction of the new main branch was expected to cost, and she said she wants to know whether the library board looked at cutting costs first before raising taxes.
Sanders said she’s collected about 3,000 signatures on a petition to dissolve the board, which doesn’t include the number of petitions circulated by others. Around 6,500 signatures — half of the eligible voters who voted in the last general election — must be collected by 4 p.m. Monday in order for the petition to be successful.
Sanders said she’s no sure if they’ll collect enough signatures, but she said she’s happy their efforts have brought about some public attention in the issue. And she said they’re expecting to approach the situation from a different angle should the petition not be successful.
“We’re going to work on getting the law changed if we don’t get enough names,” Sanders said.
Keeney said anyone concerned with the library’s future, along with the petition’s supporters, are encouraged to attend tonight’s meeting.
“We want to just educate people,” Keeney said.