- Special Sections
- Public Notices
Information I shared in last week’s column about pending trouble for the library included some incorrect information.
The accurate information, though, is even more troubling, depending on where one stands on taxes and how they are levied.
Last week I wrote about a lawsuit against the public library in Campbell County, brought by citizens who maintain that it has been illegally setting tax rates.
It’s a complicated case, which last Friday was taken out of circuit court there and sent into federal court.
The short version is that instead of relying on a House bill dating back to the late 1970s, libraries formed as taxing districts are supposed to raise (or lower) tax rates under the authority of KRS 173.
That apparently applies to our local library, and 173 in some cases requires a public vote before a library can alter its tax rate.
Getting the public to approve its own tax increase would be rather daunting in good financial times; nearly impossible in times such as these.
But unfortunately for the library folks here, getting public approval in the ballot box would actually be a walk in the park compared to the way they actually have to accomplish that task.
Having looked into this further, I’ve found that KRS 173.790 addresses how libraries formed by petition, such as ours, have to alter their tax rates.
And brother, it isn’t easy.
Here’s the deal: Rather than winning a public vote, libraries such as ours must form a petition and get the signatures of 51 percent of the number voters in the previous election. That would equate to several thousand signatures, even following a light turnout.
Then those petitions would have to be sent to the fiscal court, where magistrates would have the final say.
It stands to reason that the library has strong core support, easily numbering into the hundreds those who would stand in line to sign such a petition. It also stands to reason, though, that the tens of thousands of other residents who rarely if ever interact with the library would need considerable convincing before signing a petition to raise their own taxes.
Doing so would require a remarkable sales campaign by the library’s board of trustees, not only to explain its petition but also to let so many people be made aware that their signatures are needed. How they would accomplish that is anyone’s guess, particularly when the library’s tax rate has already increased nearly 150 percent over the past 12 years.
Consider also that should they be successful one year, doing so again and again in subsequent years would quickly become tiresome not only for core supporters, but a tax-weary public tired of seeing other public agencies raise their taxes, too.
And before anyone thinks that the wording of the petition could be made vague or mildly misleading (not that such a thing would happen), the KRS spells out exactly how it must read. And, unlike petitions non-affiliated candidates for public office must file to get their names on a ballot, the petition also requires the signer’s address and date it was signed.
I’ve written news articles about taxes in other states, including one where school board budgets had to withstand a public vote each year, but I’ve never seen anything quite this strident.
At first glance, this method appears downright onerous and unfair to those charged with keeping a library funded.
But is it? Frankly, I see nothing whatever wrong with those empowered to tax us needing to present strong evidence that an increase is needed and ask a majority of voters to sign up for the increase.
Not only would those making the request be gun-shy about doing so, but those who willingly sign up to have their taxes raised would almost certainly have a much more thorough understanding on how their local government bodies work, and the challenges they face.
Will that ever happen? Of course not. Even KRS 179, which does mandate this for libraries, has apparently slipped through the cracks or been openly ignored (the latter is my guess) by those who prefer to raise taxes without any public consent whatsoever.
To expect state government, schools, fiscal courts, city councils or any other taxing agency to impose such rules on themselves simply isn’t going to happen.