id-Continent Public Library officials have threatened Platte County with a lawsuit if a board-proposed tax increase is not placed on the ballot in Platte County for the November election.
The library district has announced it would seek legal action against the county if the county commission has not agreed to place the issue on the ballot by Aug. 25.
Mid-Continent’s board of trustees members held a specially-called meeting Tuesday evening in Independence where they made that decision in closed session, despite arguments of Platte County Presiding Commissioner Ron Schieber.
During open remarks prior to the closed session, Schieber told board members that Platte County commissioners object to the ballot language, among other things, and would not place the issue on the Nov. 8 ballot in Platte County.
The library is seeking approval of a tax increase that would increase its levy by 25 percent. Currently the library’s tax levy is 32 cents. It wants an increase to 40 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.
The increase would mean an additional $1.9 million per year to the library district, which covers Platte, Clay and Jackson County.
The tax can be passed by a majority of the cumulative vote of Platte, Clay and Jackson County. So even if the majority of Platte County voters voted “no”, property taxpayers in the county will still have to pay the tax if it passes by more votes in the other counties.
The proposed property tax increase would pay for “building and renovating library branches and maintaining or expanding library collections, services and programs,” as stated in an online library voter fact sheet.
Trent Skaggs, president of the library board, announced to those who waited for the results of the closed session that if Platte County officials decline to put the issue to a vote the district would seek a court-ordered “writ of mandamus” which, if approved by the court, would require county officials “to fulfill official duties or correct an abuse or discretion.”
Skaggs said that the 12-member board of trustees, which is made up of four members from each of the three counties served by the library, is fulfilling a “25-year precedent” in which they have sought approval of property tax increases in various jurisdictions, even when those entities involve various counties (in this case, Jackson, Clay and Platte counties).
“Our real concern is disenfranchising voters,” Skaggs said during an interview after the meeting.
Schieber said he’s “disappointed, but not surprised” by the library district’s decision, which he views as “spending taxpayer money (in attorney fees) to sue another taxpayer entity.”
Schieber said the county commission is not scheduled to meet again until September, which is after the Mid-Continent board-imposed Aug. 25 deadline.
He declined to speculate on the commission’s actions regarding the library’s announcement, but one option would be for the commission to mount a legal defense against the library’s attempt to obtain a writ of mandamus.
Jackson County officials already have decided to place the issue on the Nov. 8 ballot. A decision by Clay County is pending.
In a “letter to the editor” published in the Aug. 10 edition of The Landmark, Schieber argued that money to pay for new library buildings should be a separate ballot issue from taxes for services and materials used in such buildings. He said in his opinion it is against state statute to make voters pay a “forever tax” for one-time fees associated with new building construction.
However, Mid-Continent Community Relations and Planning Director Jim Staley said that in the library’s view the benefit of the taxing formula is that payments can be spread out over time.
He added that taxpayers are assessed for property owned through a formula that includes a myriad of services, including fire districts and roads and that schools constitute the largest percentage of taxes while libraries cost the least at about four percent. He claimed the average taxpayer’s property taxes would increase by only one percent, Staley said.
“Most people don’t think about the breakdown,” he said, but instead only notice the bottom line: ‘how much is my (overall) bill?’ ”
Emily Brown, Mid-Continent’s public relations coordinator, said the tax increase is further warranted since the last tax increase was imposed 33 years ago. Officials also contend that the district’s population is projected to grow by an additional one million residents during the next 15 years.
Schieber argued that current taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay for future use. He added, “We (Platte County commissioners) were hoping for re-consideration.”
￼Ivan Foley/Landmark file photo