Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Indiana Public Library Consolidation Fact Sheet

Public Library Consolidation in Indiana
Fact Sheet

What is library consolidation?
Consolidation refers to the combining or merging of smaller independent libraries into a larger library system, such as a county library system. Last year, a commission appointed by Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels recommended that all public libraries be reorganized by county even though extensive comments provided by the public overwhelmingly opposed any proposed library consolidation and the commission’s report provided no documented evidence that library consolidation would be economically beneficial. Statistically, Indiana’s larger public libraries cost proportionally more to operate than smaller libraries.

What are the dangers of library consolidation?
If an independent library is merged with a larger library system, the residents of the independent library district would lose all local control over their library. Their library board, composed of trustees appointed by school boards and other local elected bodies, would be dissolved and the library system would cease to exist. The larger library system would then make all decisions about the budget, staffing, facilities, programs, collections and services for the residents of the previously independent library district. Cuts would be likely in all areas at the local level as the larger library board would seek ways to maintain their large, centralized facilities.

Are there any benefits to library consolidation?
Many proponents of library consolidation frequently cite the number of citizens in Indiana who live in areas not served by public libraries. Consolidation and unserved areas are two distinctly separate issues. Unserved citizens are not taxed for library service and the consolidation of existing libraries will not automatically provide them with service. Currently these citizens can voluntarily consent to be taxed for a library and establish a new library district, contract for service with an existing library district, or voluntarily join an existing library. If Indiana wants universal library service, it will probably have to be imposed by state mandate.

Proponents of consolidation also like to cite that larger libraries would generate “economies of scale” and lead to less cost. A recent study by the Indiana Policy Review noted that 90% of expert researchers familiar with the effects of consolidation in the past do not believe consolidation would lead to reduced taxes. In fact, the survey reports consolidation would most likely increase expenditures while reducing citizens’ access to services.

In some cases, the residents of a very small library system might benefit from consolidating with a larger system having greater resources, but this might come at the cost of losing their own local library building, requiring them to travel a much further distance to visit a library. This could be a quite a hardship some for the patrons who need library service the most such as seniors and the very young. Library boards should continue to have the right to voluntarily merge if they feel it is best for their residents, but consolidation should not be mandated by the state.

Aren’t public libraries responsible for the recent large increases in Indiana property taxes?

No! , Indiana libraries account for only 3.33% of all property taxes collected in Indiana. (source: the Blue Ribbon Commission on Local Government Reform: http://indianalocalgovreform.iu.ed ).

Second, the recent 24% increase in property taxes for Indiana homeowners is due to the elimination of the inventory tax on businesses (+4%), the cap on state tax relief (+4%), trending and changes to fair market assessing (+ 10%) , and is only partially due to increases in local government tax collections (+6%). (source: July 23, 2007, “Indiana Property Taxes: How We Got Here,” a report by Larry DeBoer,Ph.D., Dept. of Agricultural Economics, Purdue University, to the Indiana Commission on State Tax and Financing Policy)

Third, public library tax levies (property tax collections) have been controlled in some manner by the state since 1973, allowing only small increases each year. Legislation approved last year will greatly limit property tax collections far into the future and many library budgets will be slashed due to the new “circuit breaker” legislation. Other new controls will greatly limit the ability of libraries to bond for new buildings or to take advantage of alternate sources of income without reducing property taxes.

Fourth, the public library world has drastically changed over the past decades, necessitating new expenditures for computer automation, public Internet service, and for the purchase of many new types of informational resources (DVDs, CDs, CD ROMs, subscriptions to online databases, etc.). Growing populations in some areas have also required the construction of new buildings and the remodeling of older buildings, often requiring more staff and public demands for a wider range of library services.

Fifth, public libraries do not have access to all of the various revenue sources available to other local governmental units such as schools, cities, towns, and counties. A county economic development income tax, etc. (CEDIT), county optional income tax (COIT) and a county adjusted gross income tax (CAGIT) do not benefit public libraries. Tax increment financing districts capture new assessment values and the revenue stream they produce for the benefit of other taxing units.

Schools receive the majority of their funding from the state. Libraries receive no direct funding from the state. The public library state distribution ($600,000 for all Indiana libraries in 2006), was eliminated last year when the governor transferred those funds to the state library instead.

Are there many libraries in Indiana that could be affected by this change or are most of them part of larger library systems?
There are 239 independent library systems serving Indiana towns, cities, townships and counties. Most Indiana libraries are either small or mid-size libraries with only 10 libraries serving populations of over 100,000. Libraries in these communities were established by local residents and stand as proud reflections of their community’s history. The choices their library boards have made in programming, services, and material collections reflect the needs and desires of each unique community having a library.

What can I do to stop mandatory consolidation of Indiana’s Libraries?
Educate yourself about the issue and contact your local legislators to urge them to oppose library consolidation. Tell them the personal stories about how having a local, independent library have improved your life and your community.

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