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Friday, March 20, 2015

Libraries Win Lawsuit in Court of Appeals 3-0

Libraries were the topic of discussion at the Fiscal Court Chambers in 2013 at an NKY Forum event. 
The Kentucky State Court of Appeals ruled in favor of libraries 3-0 overturning the rulings issued by the Campbell and Kenton County Circuit Courts.  

Kenton County Public Library Executive Director, Dave Schroeder states, “We are gratified by the decision of the Kentucky Court of Appeals affirming the method used for funding of public library taxing districts for the past 35 years.  Kentuckians in every county depend on their libraries as never before for education, information technology, literacy, and services of all types for all members of the family.  We are relieved that the investment made in Kentucky’s public libraries will continue for the benefit of all Kentuckians.”

Had the court ruled in favor of the plaintiff, the Kenton County Public Library would have had its budget cut in half. That would have resulted in job loss, programs and services being cut, possible building closings and a reduction of the collection.

“We are aware that the plaintiff can appeal to the Supreme Court. However the Supreme Court may choose not to hear it since the Kentucky Court of Appeals ruled in favor of libraries 3-0,” said Schroder.

In a Northern Kentucky Forum event hosted in 2013, Campbell County resident Eric Hermes and his attorney, Brandon Voelker argued that since the Campbell County Library was formed through petition it should only be allowed to raises taxes as governed by KRS 173.790. Circuit Court judges in Campbell and Kenton Counties have agreed and that could send library funding back to its pre-1979 levels. 

Brandon Voelker, attorney for the plaintiffs suing the Library, said that he had not yet talked to his clients but anticipated appealing the decision to the Kentucky Supreme Court. "We'll be arguing the same issues. I view it as a three-game series. The Supreme Court is game three," he said.

Cathy Howard, president of the board of trustees of the Campbell County Public Library said, “We are thrilled the Appeals Court firmly and unanimously ruled in our favor. The Court set a strong precedent with this ruling. We are happy to move forward from this litigation and focus on serving the public. The Court’s decision confirms that this library and other libraries across the Commonwealth have been acting in good faith, following the direction the legislators intended. We have always been open and accountable to the taxpayers, providing the best library services possible for the people of Campbell County." 

Ballot Initiative to Increase Library Tax

A fourth branch of the Campbell County Library was the genesis of the initial lawsuit filed by Voelker on behalf of his clients. From the Campbell County Tea Party website:

“Due to the fiscal irresponsibility of the library board, opponents of building a fourth branch of the Campbell County Public Library were looking for a way to try to stop the $5 million project from moving forward in late 2011. They asked Cold Spring attorney Brandon Voelker to find out whether state law allowed the library to incur the debt that would be needed for the project. He found that it is permitted, but during the course of his research, he found in state law a passage that says if a library district was formed by a petition from voters – as Campbell County and 78 others in Kentucky were – its property tax rate “shall not be increased or decreased” without a petition signed by at least 51 percent of voters in the last election. In other words, the Campbell County Public Library had been improperly raising its tax rate since it was created in 1978.”

In order to finance the new southern branch, the Library Board placed on the November 2012 ballot a proposal to increase taxes on real property 27% or .94 cents of every $100 of real estate property (up from .74 cents). That 27% represents an additional $1,049,156 in real estate property tax dollars being collected from property owners in Campbell County. Keep in mind this proposed increase in real estate property tax is not the only source of revenue for the libraries. The library also receives other tax revenues, including tax on their cars, trucks, motorcycles, motor homes and boats.

The proposal was soundly defeated by the voters and the results can be seen in the table below:

Campbell County New Library Tax

Against - 24,000 - 62%
For - 14,545 - 38%

The library board was undeterred by the election results and continued to plan the building of a new southern branch in spite of the overwhelming opposition for funding it. This would require them to go into debt by issuing bonds to fund the project and put the tax payers in the position of spending tax dollars for interest on a loan in addition to the initial $5 million dollar estimate. 

The Court's ruling can be located on the Library's website:

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