Library Tax Suits Filed In Five Kentucky Counties

Jul 21, 2013

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Rulings in lawsuits seeking to reduce library taxes in Anderson and Montgomery counties could have implications for other Kentucky libraries, attorneys said.

The Lexington Herald-Leader reports that a civil lawsuit filed in May seeks to roll the Anderson County library tax back to its level in 1967, when the library was organized. A suit filed in June would reduce the Montgomery County library tax to its level in 1980.

The suits argue that the library districts have improperly raised tax rates for decades without voter approval, as required by state law.

Attorneys for the libraries say their districts followed instructions on tax increases as provided by the state Department of Libraries and Archives and by opinions of the state attorney general. Officials say rolling back tax rates would greatly reduce revenue and force cuts in services.

Brandon Voelker, a lawyer in Cold Spring, filed the two suits, along with three others in Kenton, Campbell and Boone counties in Northern Kentucky. Voelker said the suits aren't meant to start a debate "on whether libraries are good or bad."

"It's a matter of whether the people have a right to decide the size and scope of their library," he said.

Ben Crittenden, attorney for Anderson county's library, says the library did not charge a tax increase that was improperly enacted.

In April, judges in Kenton and Campbell counties ruled in favor of the plaintiffs represented by Voelker. The Kenton and Campbell cases now go to the Kentucky Court of Appeals. Rulings have not been issued in the Anderson, Boone and Montgomery cases.

Voelker found a passage in a 1964 state law that says if a library district was formed by petition from voters, its property tax rate shall not be increased or decreased without a petition signed by 51 percent of registered voters in the last general election.

Attorneys for the five libraries point to a 1979 law which said taxing districts are allowed limited tax increases without voter approval.

Libraries in other Kentucky counties could be affected by the outcome of the lawsuit because a majority of the state's 106 library districts were created by petition.

Libraries in Bourbon, Boyle, Clark, Franklin, Garrard, Harrison, Jessamine, Mercer, Scott and Woodford counties, as well as numerous libraries in eastern Kentucky, were formed by petition, according to the Kentucky Public Library Trustee Manual.

In Anderson County, the 2012 library tax rate of 8.6 cents per $100 would be lowered to the rate of 2.5 cents per $100 if the suit is successful. As a result, the county's library tax revenues would drop from $749,000 to $217,000.

A drop in revenue like that would result in a reduction of two-thirds of the library's staff and at least some cut in pay for the remaining staff, Bryan Proctor, president of the Anderson County library board, wrote in an email.

"We would be unable to continue offering computer classes, early literacy classes and after-school homework assistance," Proctor wrote.