I am commenting on a thoughtful letter by Jerry Turner published Feb. 26 in the Journal Review concerning the request by the Crawfordsville District Public Library board that the county commissioners expand the library district to include three additional townships: Coal Creek, Wayne and Ripley. A little background may be helpful.
Montgomery County has five public libraries serving citizens in: Crawfordsville-Union, Darlington-Franklin, Ladoga-Clark, Linden-Madison and Waveland-Brown. These citizens pay for the services through a library tax levy imposed by the library board. In 2011, the rates for each $1,000 of assessed valuation were:
• 0.1395 Crawfordsville and Union Township
• 0.1279 Linden and Madison Townships
• 0.0899 Waveland and Brown Township
• 0.0768 Darlington and Franklin Township
• 0.0664 Ladoga and Clark Township
For example, the taxpayer with $100,000 in assessed valuation in Crawfordsville-Union will pay $139.50 while the taxpayer in Ladoga-Clark will pay $66.40. Taxpayers with more property (assessed valuation) will pay more; citizens pay nothing if they have no property.
The township boards in three other townships pay a fee to an adjoining library to obtain library service for its citizens. In 2012, Sugar Creek Township (population 448) paid the Darlington Public Library $2,000; Walnut Township (population 1,394) paid the Ladoga-Clark Public Library $4,000 while Scott Township (population 837) did not pay.
The three remaining townships that do not provide library service are the ones being considered for the expanded district. The residents of Ripley Township who purchase a library card from any county public library may present a receipt and receive reimbursement from the township. In 2012, Ripley Township (population 977) paid residents $1,243 for 22 library cards at $56.50 each; in 2013 the township paid residents $960.50 for 17 cards.
Residents of Wayne and Coal Creek townships receive no taxpayer-funded library services since the townships do not pay for them.
In 2007, the bi-partisan Indiana Commission on Local Government Reform recommended county-wide library systems and service for all citizens. The report states that 395,000 citizens in 38 Indiana counties do not have access to library services in the communities in which they live. “By reducing the number of districts, we can address current unserved and underserved areas and achieve additional economies of scale within administrative and purchasing expenditures.” “Remove the taxing authority of any office or entity that historically has little or no oversight or transparency.”
By state law, if the county commissioners expand the district of a library, the library board of the district determines the tax levy.
I applaud the commissioners for seeking comments from citizens and from Coal Creek Township trustee Roger Kunkle, Wayne Township trustee Jack Edwards and Ripley Township trustee Jim Spence before they decide.
As the three county commissioners weigh the advantages and disadvantages of an expanded Crawfordsville District Public Library, citizens should listen carefully to the reasoning of each of them. The commissioner might reason that township boards, not the commissioners or library boards, should continue to decide whether constituents have library service. The commissioner might reason that there is more transparency and better representation when decisions about library coverage are made by commissioners rather than by township boards. The commissioner might reason that although Coal Creek, Ripley and Wayne citizens will pay a tax they did not pay before, the new tax levy rate for the larger district will be smaller than the current Union Township rate. (More assessed valuation lowers the tax rate.) The commissioner might reason that equal access to the educational opportunities of a library improves the quality of life of the county, a potential factor in the decision making of a prospective industry or business.
Which of these factors or others would influence your decision if you were the commissioner?