By EVAN WADE
Clay County residents have a limited amount of time to sign a petition for, or a remonstrance against, a county-wide library system, according to Brazil Public Library Director Jill Scarbrough.
Under Indiana Code 20-14-5.1, the library board of a public library can file a proposal with the legislative body of a county, in this case the commissioners, to expand their current system into more than one township of a county. When the proposal is filed, the county auditor's office has 10 days to publicize the proposal. After the publication, the county's residents have 60 days to sign a petition in support of the proposal or a remonstrance against it. Depending on the outcome, a county-wide library system could be established without the consent of county or city's governing body.
Clay County's 60-day period began May 13 and will end July 11. To sign or start a petition or remonstrance, the petitioner must be a registered voter who lives in Clay County and must live outside of the City of Brazil, Brazil Township, or the portion of Jackson Township annexed into Brazil.
Scarborough said 20 percent of applicable county voters must sign for or against the system for the document to be valid. If petitions and remonstrances are both over 20 percent, the decision will go to the side with the most valid signatures.
Property taxpayers in Brazil Township, City, and the annexed portion of Jackson pay approximately 8.29 cents per $100 assessed property tax valuation to support the library. People who do not live in these three places pay membership fees for use of the library. These costs range from $45 a year/$15 every three months for average non-residents to $15 a year for non-residents 65 and over.
Under a county-wide system, these fees would be eliminated. If the new system is adopted, the library board will approach the Department of Local Government Finance in Indianapolis. Scarbrough said the library plans to ask the DLGF for 6 cents per $100 assessed property valuation. This number will apply throughout the county, slightly lowering the library's tax cost in the aforementioned sections of the county.
Should the library need more tax money, the matter would need to go before the DLGF again. There would be no need for contact with officials on the city or county levels. Scarbrough said the library doesn't plan to take advantage of this fact.
"The DLGF are very strict on raising tax rates," she said. "It isn't easy to raise taxes that high. We're not going to take everyone's money and buy a new site and build a new building."
Scarbrough said the South Branch of the Brazil Public Library will lose its funding from the CAPE grant on Dec. 31. It will be forced to close unless a county-wide system is implemented, keeping it funded. The South Branch receives all of its funding -- everything from salaries to equipment -- from the grant.
If the county-wide system is accepted, the South Branch will remain open. The library will be at liberty to add more staff, provide benefits for that staff, and "probably," according to Scarbrough, open a small number of smaller "outreach centers" in towns throughout the county.
Additionally, Clay County residents will be allowed "reciprocal borrowing privileges" -- the ability to attain free library cards from approximately 70 other county libraries in Indiana.
In her seven years with the library, Scarorough has attempted such a measure once before. She said that it had been tried in the 1970s and "a few times before that," failing each time.
"If (the petitions don't) go through in our favor, we will get back to our grassroots here..." she said. "We will do what we can with the tax base we have."