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What would a countywide library cost

Friday, June 18, 2004

With under a month left to file petitions for or remonstrations against a Clay County library system, people on both sides of the issue are scrambling to gather signatures.

The documents, which are due July 11, will be counted by the Clay County Clerk's office.

While most everyone agrees a countywide library system would be good for the county, they don't agree about its source of funding -- Property Tax. Under the proposed system, the library board would submit a budget to the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance (DLGF). This budget would be based on a tax rate. In Clay County's case, the submitted budget would be $550,735, or approximately six cents per $100 assessed property tax valuation.

Several people have criticized this method of funding, claiming it is unfair to taxpayers who do not plan to utilize the library's services. Currently, people who do not live in Brazil City, Brazil Township, or annexed portions of Jackson and Posey townships pay membership fees to use the library. These fees range from $45 to $15 a year, depending on a user's age.

The number of users has steadily increased since 2001, when 528 memberships were sold. Jill Scarbrough, director of the Brazil Public Library, said that 890 memberships were sold in 2003. That number does not reflect the actual number of users of the cards, however, because multiple people can be put on one library account.

"Say you're married and you have kids," she said. "The library issues you two cards: One for you and one for your wife. If your kids want to use the card, you sign them onto it so if they come in with grandma one day they can use it."

Scarbrough said there is no limit on the number of users on an account, claiming she has seen the number of people on one account "go up to seven."

The director said roughly 32 percent of the population is "serviced," or taxed, by the library. She said Clay County has the highest percentage of "unserviced" people for any county in the state. The remainder of the county's residents, approximately 18,000 people, must pay membership fees to use the library.

Under 2002 (payable 2003) Property Tax figures, all but four of the county's towns and townships would see some increase in Property Taxes on the whole. For exact figures, see the sidebar on this page.

County residents involved in agriculture have been arguably the most vocal opposition to the proposed system. Most farmers own larger amounts of property than the average homeowner, leaving them to pay more taxes in the first place. The extra burden created by the new system would cost farmers more than other county residents, which they claim is an unfair flaw in the payment system.

Jack Knust, president of Clay County Farm Bureau, said he expects to pay about $600 dollars a year in additional Property Tax if the measure passes.

"We need something that's more fair to all," he said.

He said a measure that would be more fair to everyone would be a household tax, which he said would cost every taxpayer in the county around $15 a year.

At $600, Knust's property would be assessed at approximately $1 million. He said there are other farmers in the county who would pay up to $800 a year extra.

Knust's other concern is the fact that, if formed, the library would not need to consult the county to get a larger budget. Since the county would not be involved, he believes it will be easier for the library to charge county taxpayers more.

"It's a lot easier to get county money from the state than from the county," he said. "Those guys could say 'OK, you need a few new libraries' and then we could get up to $.10, $.20."

Knust said tax deductions don't make the problem any easier to solve.

"We don't need deductions," he said. "We need things to make money. Farm Bureau is not against a countywide library, but there's got to be a better way to pay for it."

Bob Cherry, Indiana Farm Bureau's director of local government relations and state representative agrees with Knust.

"Basically you've got a non-elected board that can raise property taxes. I know this will hurt the rural areas in Clay County more than residential ones, because they have more property to pay taxes on."

Scarbrough said she was mailed a document claiming that Clay County farmers received $3,909,000 in subsidies in 2002. The document, sent anonymously, was attached to a note that said "too bad the library isn't a farm."

"This is a huge amount to be returned to Clay County farmers through subsidies," she said.

She maintains that the DLGF's budget-raising standards are very stringent, and the library is not going to suck all of the money out of the county.

"We're not asking for any more than we need," she said.

In a previous interview, she claimed the Clay City branch of the library would be shut down if a countywide system was not accepted.

Scarbrough said the library has "at least" 25 or 30 petitions out around the county. Knust said he has a remonstration of his own going around Perry Township, and he knows of many more. To be eligible to sign either document, a person must be a registered taxpayer living in Clay County who does not live in Brazil City, Township, or annexed portions of Jackson and Posey townships.

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