By Pat LaFleur,
FortThomasMatters City Beat
Last week, Campbell County Circuit Court judge Julie Reinhardt Ward ruled in favor of a plaintiff suing the Campbell County Public Library (CCPL) for illegally raising tax rates for the last 35 years.
In a week, the lawsuit has already gained lots of attention, prompting many to voice their support of or opposition to Judge Ward’s ruling. This should happen. How tax dollars are acquired and spent is something any community must discuss.
Charged with such political currents, however, cases like these can easily allow for politics to outweigh, obscure, or even obstruct the facts.
Here’s a list of factual details -- in bite-sized chunks -- surrounding the case, so that we all can maintain a discussion rooted in integrity and rational argument. As details unfold or clarify, this post may be updated:
• The class-action lawsuit was filed on January 19, 2012 by attorney Brandon Voelker, on behalf of Alexandria resident Charlie Coleman and Cold Spring residents John P. Roth and Erik Hermes.
• The defendant, Campbell County Public Library Board of Trustees, was represented by Jeff Mando of Covington.
• The plaintiff sued CCPL Board for violating Kentucky Revised Statute (KRS) 173.790, which states that any public library district created by a petition of voters (which CCPL was on 9/5/78) cannot raise or lower its tax rate without first petitioning 51% of voters who participated in the last election. Click here to see the law, in lawmakers’ words.
• CCPL -- along with nearly 80 other public library districts in KY -- have been raising tax rates without petition since 1978.
• As defense, CCPL cites itself as a “special tax district” falling into the jurisdiction of KRS 132. The defense argued that this is the legislation they followed when determining their procedure for raising property tax. KRS 132, a lengthy piece of legislation, is written to limit special tax districts’ ability to raise tax rates.
• CCPL has demonstrated consistency with KRS 132, most recently when it offered Northern Kentucky voters the decision whether or not to raise the tax rate to fund construction on the proposed South Branch in Alexandria.
• Judge Ward ruled in favor of the plaintiff, that KRS 132 does not exempt CCPL from following KRS 173.790 when adjusting its tax rates.
• Judge Ward has not yet issued a ruling on how the current tax rate should be adjusted. There is much speculation on this matter. Currently, CCPL collects 7.7 cents for every $100 in property value from Campbell Co. property owners. This equates to .077% of property value collected by CCPL.
• The plaintiff is calling for a full reversion back to the 1978 rate of 3 cents/$100 of property value. This would equate to .03% property value collected.
• If tax rates are reverted back to their 1978 level, that would equal over a 60% reduction in CCPL funding from its current total of $4.6 million annually to $1.9 million annually, according to NKY.com and WKRC-TV Local 12.
• CCPL Director J.C. Morgan was quoted to say that 1978 funding levels would mean a reduction from 70 weekly hours, a less-than-seven days per week schedule, an almost certain stoppage of book acquisition, and the closing of at least 1 branch.
• The plaintiff is also calling for a full reimbursement of all tax revenue collected since 1978. Judge Ward has not yet ruled on this either. At 1978 tax revenue levels, this would equate to almost $70 million, over the last 35 years. Annual tax revenue totals have been higher than that, however, in years since.
• According to NKY.com (see link above), CCPL currently receives 93% of its funding through tax revenue.
• On April 25, 2013, the Campbell County Circuit Court will hold a status hearing, so that Judge Ward may determine how to rule on these subsequent issues.
• Mr. Voelker also has similar suits pending in Kenton and Boone Counties. Kenton County Judge Patricia Summe heard the case in conjunction with Judge Ward.
These are facts.
This is a significant issue to the Ft. Thomas community, and Campbell County at large, and it deserves thorough investigation and review.
For more info, see these resources:
Campbell County Library Lawsuit Fact Sheet: http://www.cc-pl.org/lawsuit
Brandon Voelker (attorney for the plaintiff): http://www.thevoelkerfirm.com/news_1-19-2012.php
Jeff Mando (attorney for the defendant): http://www.aswdlaw.com/attorneys/jeffrey-c-mando/