By HEATHER TOMLINSON, CJ Staff Writer Associated Press
Although a petition drive to dissolve the library taxing district is still alive, key members of the group met last night with a local attorney in search of answers to a problem that has rocked the county.
“All we want is what’s right,” said Terry Hines on Monday. “We’re trying to do the taxpayers a real favor without harming the library.”
Several members of the petition group, which is headed by Barbara Sanders, met with Somerset City Attorney Carrie Wiese Monday evening in hopes of searching for a few answers that have eluded the group since the controversy over the Pulaski County library and recent tax increases began several months ago.
“I think it went really well tonight,” said Wiese on Monday.
Sanders and her group have until December to turn in a petition with the needed 6,500 signatures that would dissolve the board — despite reports that the group’s deadline was on Monday afternoon.
The Pulaski County Library Board was criticized earlier this year after the library enacted a tax increase, and county officials expressed frustrations over a lack of oversight for the library’s special taxing district. The Pulaski County Fiscal Court has no authority over the library board, which is made up of appointed board members who get no compensation — yet the county often takes the heat for higher tax rates that county officials have no control over.
The library 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. The compensating rate will give the district roughly the same amount of revenue as it received the year before through tax collections.
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.
The newest tax increase resulted in the petition to dissolve the library board, which is the only way to do so, as the special taxing district was created through voter petition. That document has been circulating since September.
But the issue became more complex when the library board came out with information provided to them from the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives (KDLA) that stated the library, which is millions of dollars in debt due to the construction of the new building that began operations in 2008, would close down should the board be dissolved.
Case law and state statutes suggest 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 library and its branches would close, and the assets of the library would be sold off to satisfy the debt.
The library’s debt stands at about $9,507,830.
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.
The debate over the issue has intensified, and emotions have run high, resulting in many people to circulate messages on social networks such as Facebook about the library’s possible future should the petition pass.
“We want to eliminate all of the emotions from the issue and provide a rational look at the concerns of the citizens who want to look at the board’s activities and not shut the library down,” said Wiese.
Wiese is helping the group research several questions of state statute that outline bonding practices, appointment procedures for board members, and more. Sanders said she and the petition’s supporters just want a sense of accountability within the county’s special taxing districts.
“We just want accountability to the taxpayer,” said Hines. “Don’t raise any more taxes until you show me you need it.”
Since Thursday’s meeting, many have encouraged those who signed the petition to contact Sanders to have their names stricken from the document. Sanders said that she herself had received requests from around 20 people to have their names removed from the petition as of Monday afternoon.