The Washington Public Library board is proposing a 10-cent tax levy increase, raising property taxes to the same level as the Scenic Regional Library District.

Library Director Claire Miller told the city’s administration/operations committee Monday night that the library board voted last week to place 

Proposition L on the April 2, 2019, ballot.

Only residents within the library district would vote for the proposition.

The library district’s current levy is 10 cents per $100 dollars assessed valuation. The library board is proposing to double the levy to 20 cents per $100 assessed valuation.

The property tax generates about $125,000 annually.

If the tax hike is approved by voters, it would generate approximately $250,000, according to Miller.

The Washington City Council voted 7-1 Monday to draft a letter of support for Prop L. Councilwoman Susan Watermann cast the dissenting vote, citing ethical concerns.

According to City Administrator Darren Lamb, the city subsidizes the library district’s budget with $325,000 from general revenue. The increased tax levy would free up about $125,000 for the city’s budget.

“The city has been subsidizing the library for a long time; when the sales tax was approved and the new building was built it doubled our cost to operate,” Miller told The Missourian.

In 2012, the renovated Washington library was reopened. The updates were funded through the city’s capital improvement sales tax.

Miller said the library had seven staff members before the building was updated. Today, there are 14 employees.

“This (the tax increase) helps the city and it helps us,” Miller said. “The city can allocate those funds for other projects and it will help us provide service at the same level.”

According to Library Board Vice President and Treasurer Jeff Holtmeier, it’s believed that the current levy is the same amount the district has been operating under since 1965. He said members are investigating to determine if that is the case.

“We believe we have not had an increase since that time,” Miller added. “We have not asked for more, but it is past that time — when we did this renovation we took on more and we want to be more responsible.

“It is not a lot of money and it would go really far,” she said.

Lamb noted the library board does not need city approval to seek a tax increase.

Question Ethics

Watermann said the Missouri Ethics Commission cautions political subdivisions from supporting tax increases that benefit other political entities.

“While I think the library is very important, I don’t think it is our place to (vote for support of it),” she said.

Watermann added state statute prohibits the city from paying to place the measure on the ballot.

“The library will have to pay the election costs,” said City Counselor Mark Piontek. However, Piontek said he sees no conflict with the city supporting the tax levy increase.

In October, Watermann expressed concern about the city council endorsing Proposition D, a statewide fuel tax proposition. She voted against submitting a letter of support for that measure.

At the time, Piontek explained the ethics commission has a rule, that even if spending public funds, if the funding is “de minimis” (minimal) it is not a violation of state statutes.

“My answer is really the same,” he said Monday. “I am not expecting anything other than de minimis public funds for a letter of support.”

Library District

A 1965 state law froze the boundaries of city library districts. Since that time, the city’s boundaries have grown, but all newly annexed areas are under the taxing jurisdiction of the Scenic Regional district.

The city does not assess the city library tax to those citizens, which would amount to double taxation.

Studies have indicated that 60 percent of the people who use the city library pay taxes to the regional library district.