There are many reasons to vote “NO” on Proposition L, a property tax increase for the St. Louis County Library that will be on the November 6 ballot in most of St. Louis County -- except in cities that have their own libraries. Some of the reasons:
● Proposition L is a big property tax increase – 37 percent. The tax is currently 16.3 cents per $100 assessed valuation and would go to 22.3 cents, according to library officials. However, the ballot language asks voters to increase the tax from 20 cents per $100 valuation to 26 cents. This is the “ceiling” for the tax and the library board could increase it to 26 cents in the futur
● The St. Louis County Library already receives plenty of support from taxpayers. A main argument being used by Prop L supporters is that the library has not asked for a tax increase since 1983 – “nearly 30 years ago,” they like to say. This makes it sound as if the library is getting by with the same amount of tax revenue as ’83 but that isn’t the case. In 1983 the library was receiving $9 million of tax revenue. In 2011 it received $34.5 million, nearly a four-fold increase. Taxpayers have been providing increasing amount of tax revenue and will continue to do so even without a higher tax rate.
● The $108 million library building plan makes no sense. The library’s $108 million building program is the result of a Master Facilities Plan put together by a consulting firm from New York. It is more of a wish list than a practical program to upgrade libraries. The public was not invited to comment. The library prefers focus groups.
The master plan calls for replacing six libraries, renovating four different ones and upgrading nine. The biggest ticket item would be to tear down the headquarters library on Lindbergh near Clayton Road. With a new operations center included, the price tag comes to $30 million.
The headquarters library was renovated and expanded about 20 years ago at a cost of $7.8 million dollars. The administration at the time obviously didn’t think it was as dysfunctional as the current administration.
Another big-ticket item is $20 million to build another Tesson Ferry library somewhere in South County. The cost of the land included. It would no doubt surprise many patrons of the Tesson branch to learn the popular and solidly built structure is “deteriorating” and virtually ready to fall apart. At least this is what the New York consultants seem to think.
What makes no sense at all is the plan to replace the Mid-County library in Clayton at North Central and Maryland. The building is an architectural gem, only 35 years old and in an excellent location to serve both nearby residents and the Clayton business community. So why replace it?
According to the consultants, parking is inadequate and inconvenient. Given that there is street-level parking under the library, a public parking lot across the street and plenty of on-street parking, it has to be wondered how the consultants think $6.5 million for a new library can be justified.
● Proposition L is a bad way to fund capital improvement projects. The tax hike would yield about $11 million a year. Yet when the building plan would be funded in 10 years or less, the tax would continue on forever. This is why a bond issue would be a better funding method. The specific projects could be listed and the tax would end when the bonds are paid off.
● The St. Louis County Library Board – just like the History Museum. The County Library board is appointed and isn’t accountable to anyone. The public has little input into library policies and this would also be true with the building program. The same at the History Museum, the board is not representing the interests of the public. About 94 percent of library funding comes from property taxes levied in St. Louis County.
● The County Library charged with violating state election laws. An ethics complaint has been made against the County Library that alleges it is spending $200,000 or more of public funds to promote the passage of Proposition L. The complaint also alleges the library has failed to report the expenditures as the Campaign Finance Disclosure Law requires.
-- Tom Sullivan