Scenic Regional Library District officials are seeking a property tax increase to fund operations and update technology in the library system.
Voters Tuesday will be asked to increase the property tax levy from 10 cents per $100 assessed valuation to 20 cents.
According to Director Steve Campbell, the levy increase would be used to update technology options, and provide more services to library patrons.
The library system serves Gasconade, Warren and Franklin counties with branches in Hermann, Owensville, Union, St. Clair, New Haven, Warrenton and Pacific.
Scenic Regional Library has had the same 10-cent operating levy in all three counties since 1959. The library system has never had a tax increase in its entire 55-year history, Campbell has said.
He further explained that the library district has the third-lowest tax rate in the state — 131st out of Missouri’s 133 public libraries in 2012. Unlike school districts, the library is over 96 percent locally funded. Nearly all of the library’s revenue is received from the local property tax, not state or federal funds.
The library district’s budget would increase from $2.051 million to $4.8 million. The funds would be used for operations, renovations and expansion of all of the district facilities.
Campbell said he has heard some criticize the tax levy initiative, stating that the library’s revenue has increased, yet its tax levy rate has not.
“While the library’s tax rate is the same as it was in 1959, its revenue certainly is not,” Campbell explained. “As property values have increased, the library’s revenue has increased.”
He added that the argument that the tax levy should not be increased because revenue has increased is flawed.
“First, this assumes that the tax rate was adequate in the first place. It clearly was not,” he said. “Many county libraries were started in the 1940s and 1950s with a higher tax rate than Scenic Regional has today. Scenic Regional has always been a poor library.”
He added that since 2008 property values have declined; most notably last year, when they declined 3.6 percent in Franklin County.
In 1959 libraries were buildings filled with books and a card catalog and many didn’t even have telephones, according to Campbell.
“Today, libraries offer e-books, e-audiobooks, wireless Internet, online research databases, programs, outreach, public computers, DVDs, CDs, and many other services,” he said. “It costs a lot more to operate a library today than it did in 1959.”
Campbell noted that it is inaccurate to state that Scenic Regional is “doubling taxes.”
“It’s important to remember that Scenic Regional hasn’t had a tax increase in 55 years,” he said. “The average school district in Missouri has enjoyed a 70 percent increase in its tax rate over the same time period.”
The amount is only “doubling” Scenic Regional’s tax rate because “the rate is ridiculously low in the first place,” Campbell added.
“The measure will only cost the average homeowner a couple dollars a month,” he said.
Scenic Regional Library conducted a survey last spring that was mailed to 4,500 residents in the three-county area. Nearly 60 percent of respondents said that they want longer service hours, more new material, or expanded facilities. However, the library’s existing revenue does not allow for any of these changes, according to Campbell.
Most Scenic Regional branches are closed on Mondays and only open one evening a week. Currently, the library can’t afford the additional staff needed to provide longer service hours (more evening and weekend hours) when most residents are home from work and can visit. If successful, the measure would allow the library to expand service hours at all its locations.
Many of the library’s facilities need upgrades and improvements that they cannot afford. The buildings are too small to accommodate increasing program attendance or additional new material.
The library’s service population continues to grow and it cannot afford to expand the size of its facilities. In some cases, the library’s facilities are not even handicapped accessible. For example, the library’s New Haven facility was built in 1880 and hasn’t been renovated since the early 1960s. The levy increase would allow the library to significantly improve or expand all of its facilities.