by Legate Damar
Last month Campbell Circuit Judge Julie Reinhardt Ward ruled that the Campbell County Public Library was wrong to use a law since 1979 that allows it to set a tax rate without a petition from citizens. She finalized her ruling on 5/14/2013 allowing her decision to be heard on appeal. Kenton County Circuit Judge Patricia Summe also ruled last month that the Kenton County Public Library board was improperly setting its tax rate (Campbell, Kenton libraries to file appeals, hope for Supreme Court ruling, 2013).
The lawsuit filed in Circuit Court charged that the Campbell County library had improperly raised taxes since 1979. KRS 173.790 explicitly states that 100 people can petition to have the tax rate placed on the ballot and “put before the electorate,” or the rate can be changed by petition, which requires 51 percent of registered voters in the last general election (Suit filed against Boone library, 2013). The Library argued that a bill HB 44 which passed in 1979 by the Kentucky General Assembly gave library districts the same power to increase taxes just as any other special district, such as fire districts, by allowing them to increase taxes by four percent more than the compensating rate (Tea party wins again, 2013).
This is contrary to what the Enquirer recently reported. They stated that attorneys for the districts argued that a separate state law, passed in 1979, “made” libraries special taxing districts, giving them the ability to create tax increases without voter approval (Campbell, Kenton libraries to file appeals, hope for Supreme Court ruling, 2013). HB 44 didn’t “make” libraries special districts. In fact out of the 7,333 words in HB 44 the law doesn’t even mention the word “library” which is part of the libraries problem with their case. What the law did do was allow special districts to raise taxes at the compensating rate. The Kentucky Department of Libraries and Archives decided that it was too cumbersome for libraries to allow the tax payers to make the decision regarding their tax rates, so they came to the conclusion libraries were special districts in spite of KRS 173.790. You gotta love the Enquirer!
A recent column by Joan Thamann asserted that the intent of the lawsuits were to lower our property taxes (Don’t close book on local libraries, 2013). I wish it were that simple but Ms. Thamann is incorrect. The intent of the lawsuits were to give the tax payer representation, and therefore a voice, in setting their tax rates and reign in an out of control Board of Trustees for the Campbell County Library who continue to pursue opening a fourth branch in spite of fact that voters rejected a proposal last year to raise its property tax 27 percent to fund a new branch (Library Tax Axed!, 2013).
Ms. Thamann took exception to the terminology Tom Wurtz used in his column "Officials on library taxes: ‘I see nothing’" to describe the behavior of the libraries when they broke the law (Don’t close book on local libraries, 2013). I read the article and the description Mr. Wurtz used wasn’t any worse than the characterization of Brandon Voelker, the plaintiffs in the suit and the NKY Tea Party “sharply reducing the educational horizons of thousands of Northern Kentucky children (Library Tax Axed!, 2013)” or that the lawsuit was an “assault on literacy and public enrichment (No Taxation without Representation!, 2013).” Library proponents seem to conveniently forget when they slander us.
Finally, Ms. Thamann goes on to say that any financial counselor will recommend you utilize your local library in order to cut your monthly expenses and that her family of six visits the library almost weekly. There they have access to over 550,000 books, CDs, newspapers, magazines, movies and video games. They usually come home with 10-20 different books, two to three different CDs, and maybe a movie or two. According to Ms. Thamann the amount of money her family saves by using the libraries’ many resources greatly outweighs the amount of property tax they would save (Don’t close book on local libraries, 2013). Although I agree that there are financial and educational merits to our libraries, here is a list of top books and DVDs that were checked out in 2012:
Top 5 DVDs:
(2) Ides of March
(3) Hangover Part II
(4) Killer Elite
(5) Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Top 5 Children’s DVDs:
(1) Cars 2
(3) Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked
(4) Gnomeo & Juliet
(5) Toy Story 3
Top 5 Adult Books
(1) The Hunger Games
(2) Guilty Wives
(3) The Help
(4) The Litigators
None of the books or DVDs listed sound very educational to me. Which raises the fundamental question of what role our libraries should occupy in our communities. Why should my neighbors be able to rent non-educational DVDs and video games at a cost to the tax payer when I rent mine at Redbox? Redbox charges a $1.27 per movie including taxes which I think is a steal. Unfortunately the tax payer doesn’t have any say in what falls under the purview of the library because our libraries are run by a Board of Trustees that are appointed rather than elected by the public, which in turn allows them to make decisions about taxation among other things much like the Politboro did in the Soviet Union.
Brandon Voelker, attorney for the plaintiffs in both cases, said he has tried to offer “solutions” to the Campbell district that would avoid an appeal; however, he said, they would not listen. The plaintiffs in the case against the Campbell County library made a very generous offer to settle the case. One stipulation to the offer was that in exchange for a refund to the tax payers, the libraries would have to begin following KRS 173.790.
Kenton County Public Library would not meet to discuss the issue, Voelker said. Campbell County discussed and dismissed offers, he said.
“We tried to work with them to settle, and it gets nowhere,” Voelker said. “We’ve been willing to compromise. They think they are just entitled to do what they’ve been doing (Campbell, Kenton libraries to file appeals, hope for Supreme Court ruling, 2013).”
Campbell County Public Library attorney Jeffrey Mando said he plans to file an appeal requesting the Kentucky Supreme Court hear the appeal.
Kenton County Public Library also plans to file its appeal, said attorney Michael Hawkins of Dinsmore & Shohl in Cincinnati.
Both attorneys said the cases could end up heard together for efficiency and to expedite a final ruling (Campbell, Kenton libraries to file appeals, hope for Supreme Court ruling, 2013).
What can you do? It looks like it is going be a showdown in the Kentucky Supreme Court over whether or not the libraries can raise taxes without the consent of the tax payer. It’s high time the residents of Kentucky take back what’s ours. Call the Legislator Message Line below and tell our elected officials that you are tired of being pushed around by our special districts. No taxation without representation!
Your voice can make a difference today. Make a two minute call now.
Tell the operator in Frankfort to give your message to all elected officials. Please, you can make your point known in a 2 minute phone call.
YOUR VOICE CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE
“Taxation without representation is tyranny.”
--James Otis, Jr., February 5, 1725 – May 23, 1783