It’s been a while since I’ve written concerning library consolidation, but now that the Indiana Commission on Local Government Reform report has been released I’d thought I’d share some thoughts and talking points I threw together. Please feel free to use the document any way you may see fit, adding, correcting, or deleting anything you may like.
Please contact me directly if you want me to resend anything I’ve previously sent.
My trustees and I have a meeting scheduled with 3 of our 4 legislators this evening to talk with them about the report, and I encourage you to reach out to your local representatives too.
As I wrote in an earlier message, please feel free to use this mailing list to communicate with your colleagues by posting a message in a reply to all. You can strip out the content of any of my messages, sending a communication to the group and share your observations, and/or any other documents you might believe might be of use to our public library community in this campaign to preserve the independence of our libraries.
Please remember to visit Steve Boggs’ blog at http://sospl.blogspot.com/ for additional resources related to the topic.
We’re all in this together.
We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.
— John F. KENNEDY
Phil Baugher, Director
phone - 1-219-926-7696
December 12, 2007
Talking Points and Responses to
“Streamlining Local Government”
Some General Observations
The report, “Streamlining Local Government” speculates about how local government might be altered to reduce property taxes for taxpayers. Unfortunately, the recommendations appear to be based largely on a variety of unsubstantiated assumptions and leaps in logic. The report lacks concrete examples and data calculations of how much might be saved for each recommendation. The recommendations also do not address the negative impact the recommendations might have on the delivery of local government services if enacted.
The web site for the Indiana Commission on Local Government Reform contains extensive summarized comments received from the public through the commission’s web site, e-mail address or by regular mail. The comments are overwhelmingly opposed to the consolidation of libraries. Unfortunately, the report fails to acknowledge these comments and cherry picks only the comments supporting their recommendations to be included in the text of the report.
Recommendation #18 - Reorganize library systems by county and provide permanent library service for all citizens.
The report acknowledges the high ranking of
Small libraries obviously contribute greatly to the overall high ranking.
Consolidation and addressing areas not served by a public library are two separate issues.
Bigger is not necessarily better especially if library facilities are centralized and are not conveniently located in the communities served.
There are already legal mechanisms in place that would allow libraries to merge together and form larger library districts if desired by their library boards. Permissive legislation might be considered that would allow residents to merge library districts through a referendum without relying on library boards to approve the issue.
Larger libraries tend to incur more debt through bonding and building.
The remodeled and expanded central library of the Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library was 2 years overdue, cost over $103 million, was $50 million over budget, and a library trustee plead guilty of a felony related to the building project. Larger libraries have a greater concentration of resources that could be lost through theft, mismanagement, or the simple fiscal or operational ineptitude of library officials.
The issue of un-served areas can only be resolved by mandating all citizens be taxed for library service and by allowing townships to either create their own library district, contract for service with an existing district for a negotiated price, or to merge permanently with an existing district would allow a township to chose the best and most economical option for their citizens.
Forcing un-served areas into the larger libraries would be more expensive and in some cases, citizens would be responsible for paying off the old debt incurred by the larger unit.
Consolidation would not guarantee that existing library buildings in merged units would continue to be operated, or that the un-served areas would receive library building of their own in return for the new taxes they would be required to pay. Larger units tend to build and operate larger buildings.
Consolidation of libraries would reduce the number of library trustees who are available throughout the state to respond to the concerns of their citizens, reducing accountability. Fewer trustees would also reduce public oversight of libraries and could lead to increased corruption and mismanagement.
Library trustees are volunteers and are not paid for their service.
Most library directors serving in small libraries are not full-time administrators, serving more as professional librarians than as bureaucrats.
Consolidation would reduce the number of library directors in the state, but the library buildings they operate would still need professional supervision and guidance.
New, proposed certification standards for library employees recently proposed by the Indiana State Library require public libraries to employ many more trained professional librarians throughout the state, not fewer.
Merging the various automated systems in libraries in the state would take a long time and cost millions of dollars.
The general public appears to be very satisfied with the quality of their library service, and is not clamoring for radical change.
Recommendation #19 – Require that the budgets and bonds of library and all other special districts be approved by the fiscal body of the municipal or county government containing the greatest proportion of assessed value in the unit seeking approval.
Libraries only account for 3.33% of total property tax expenditures.
Public library property tax collections are limited by the same state regulations and annual multipliers as other local units of government.
Public libraries and other local units of government are not responsible for the recent and dramatic increases in property taxes due to the elimination of the inventory tax and changes in the method of property assessment. Public libraries should not be singled out for blame. Any new property tax controls should be applied equitably among all units of government to insure no one area of service suffers dramatically.
Public libraries are usually very conservative and if their recent expenditures have been high in comparison with other local units of government, it has been because public libraries have been required to provide their public with many new technologies. If we want our citizens to continue to be competitive in the modern world, we should consider how we can improve the information services provided by our public libraries, not how these services can be reduced.
A recent study of
Recent, new regulations already require that bond issues in excess of $7 million be approved by the county board of tax and capital review. A referendum might also be considered to determine the success or failure of a bond issue. Let the voters decide.
This proposal could disenfranchise all of the citizens who don’t reside in the municipal or county unit not having the greatest proportion of assessed valuation.
The proposal would give a body the authority to reduce the budget of another local unit of government without having any real responsibility for providing the public service of the second unit. This would greatly reduce accountability to the public.
The existing and proposed “circuit breaker” legislation limits the total amount of taxes that can be collected in a county. If the larger fiscal body in the county found its property tax collections being limited by the circuit breaker ceiling, it would very likely slash the library’s budget or could even conceivably close the public library to reduce their loss. Again, property tax controls should be applied equitably among all units of government.
If the issue is really one objecting to appointed boards having the ability to levy taxes, then the obvious solution is to change the law and require public library boards be elected and to not jeopardize the public libraries they serve.
The general public appears to be very satisfied with the cost of library service, and is not clamoring for radical change.
Public libraries operate very efficiently and cooperatively. Many libraries already participate in a variety of cooperative purchasing programs. Some libraries share automated systems and are working towards establishing shared bibliographic catalogs. Libraries also participate in interlibrary loan programs, arranging for the loan of and borrowing of materials between libraries on behalf of their patrons upon request. There are also a variety of reciprocal borrowing agreements throughout the state that allow library patrons to travel to a neighboring library district to borrow materials directly.