The Rolla Daily News - Rolla, MO
  • St. James city, library officials explain property tax at forum

  • More than 40 members of the community turned out for an Aug. 26 public forum held at the James Memorial Library to discuss the upcoming tax electio
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  • ST. JAMES — More than 40 members of the community turned out for an Aug. 26 public forum held at the James Memorial Library to discuss the upcoming tax election. The tax is going back to voters Sept. 30 after the Aug. 5 election results were tossed by the Phelps County Circuit Court.
    If passed, the tax, which is a 30-cent property tax levy, would generate about $106,000 in revenue for the library. According to St. James city officials this money will be used to keep the James Memorial Library doors open.
    The projected budget from the 2014-15 year is expected to be $83,990. The 2013-14 budget totaled $49,712. The projected increase is largely due to an increased cost of updated circulation materials and necessary staff additions.
    During the public forum members of the library board addressed questions from the public concerning the tax.
    Library Board President Mitch Weatherly said prior to the James Foundation's transfer of the library and park properties to St. James, the library operated on a yearly budget of about $160,000. Upon transfer to the city, the foundation gifted the city with about $190,000 strictly for the library's use to sustain operations through the near future, however those funds are now dwindling.
    The library's operational budget has been reduced to almost a third of its foundation-held budget.
    The board decided to bring a property tax issue before city voters in order to maintain operations of the library in perpetuity.
    City officials have said, per contractual agreement with the James Foundation, if the library were to close—as is a possible case should the tax fail—the properties of the library and park would be transferred back to the foundation.
    Supporters of the tax point to additional opportunities for the public to use the library, as hours of operation would be extended, as would an increase in materials and program offerings.
    Once the library becomes publicly funded, it becomes eligible for a broader range of grant opportunities, which would help supplement the budget.
    During the Aug. 5 election, the tax barely passed 340-338, however at least 11 voters in Ward 4 did not receive the proper in-city ballot because of clerical miscue and as a result were initially denied the opportunity to vote on the tax.
    Phelps County Clerk Carol Bennett contested the election because of the miscue and Phelps County Circuit Court Judge William Hickle ruled the election results be tossed and ordered a new election.
    The election will cost taxpayers about $1,200.
    Absentee voting for the special election is now available in the county clerk's office. The deadline to vote absentee is 5 p.m. Sept. 29. An application for absentee ballots may only be completed by a voter or the voter's next of kin.
    The county clerk's office will be open 8 a.m. to noon the Saturday before the election, Sept. 27, for absentee voting. In order to be counted, absentee ballots must be received by the county clerk's office no later than 7 p.m. Sept. 30, delivered by the voter or through mail.
    Page 2 of 3 - Mailed ballots will not be sent out to voters after 5 p.m. Sept. 24, unless a voter is hospitalized. For more information call the county clerk’s office at 573-458-6101.
    Why is the library district defined by the city limits?
    Using city limits and a library board consisting of citizens of St. James allows for the library to be under local control. If the library district were to be established along other boundaries, for example the school district, it would include portions of four counties and the governing board would then be appointed by the county commissioners.
    Why can’t I vote if I own property in the city, but my residence is located outside the city limits?
    Voting is done based on the location of your primary residence as set by state law.
    How is keeping the library open tied to the park?
    When the New York Community Trust and the James Foundation determined that it was time to turn the operation of the library and park over to the city, they wanted to ensure that both properties would be used for those purposes, as Lucy Wortham James intended. The transfer agreement specifically states:
    1. If the library is not open for use by the public as a public library at no or nominal charge to users who are city residents for at least 200 days during any calendar year, then the conveyance shall be void and the property shall revert to the foundation, its successors and assigns, and the deed shall contain such reversionary interest.
    2. If the park is not open for use by the public as a free or nominal charge public recreation park for at least 270 days during any calendar year, then the conveyance shall be void and the property shall revert to the foundation, its successors and assigns, and the deed shall contain such reversionary interest.
    The “property” and “deed” referenced in the agreement pertain to the library and the park, or the entire conveyance. So, by the terms of the agreement, both must remain open for the set number of days per year. The city disagreed with these provisions and negotiated with the New York Community Trust over their inclusion. While some of the language was changed, the trust insisted the provisions stay as a condition of the transfer.
    What will happen to the library and park if they were to revert back to the James Foundation?
    The city is not sure what would happen to the properties if they go back in control of the James Foundation. When the transfer was made, the New York Community Trust indicated in its documents that if the city and the trust failed to agree on the transfer of responsibility and cost of the library by the given date, the James Foundation would be forced to close the library by May 2013. Presumably, the trust’s financial situation is no different today, so the city administration assumes the foundation would close the library and park if it were to revert back.
    Page 3 of 3 - Why is the library tax based on property tax?
    In Missouri, public libraries are to be funded by property taxes as set in the RSMo (Revised Statutes of Missouri) Section 137.030.
    For this library tax, how was the 30 cents per $100 assessed evaluation on property in St. James determined?
    The amount was based on the current library budget and a close look at the capital improvements needed such as ADA (Americans With Disabilities) compliant restrooms. Tax levies in surrounding communities were reviewed and compared. (Salem is a city with similar population and library operations. Their library tax is 30 cents). With a tax levy the library will be eligible for grants and state aid.
    How will the money raised by a library tax be spent?
    The money will go toward salaries and benefits of staff, library materials (books, newspaper and magazines subscriptions, DVDs), supplies, education expenses, copier rentals, phone bills, utilities, capital improvements and maintenance of the building and property.
    Will there be a library card fee for St. James city residents?
    No, citizens who live inside the city limits of St. James will not pay a library card fee if the tax is passed.
    Will there be a library card fee for non-city residents?
    Yes, those patrons who are currently living outside of the city limits will pay a yearly patron fee. However, if you live outside the city limits but own property inside the city limits you will receive a library card free of charge.
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