The St. Louis County Library will have a property tax increase proposal on the Nov. 6, 2012 ballot, titled Proposition L. It is a 6-cent property tax hike that would take the library tax from 16.3 cents per $100 of assessed valuation to 22.3 cents — a sizable increase in difficult economic times.

A main argument Library officials have been making is that the library has not asked for a tax increase since 1983. But that isn’t the same as saying the tax rate has not increased since 1983.

Also, having the same tax rate doesn’t mean that tax revenue hasn’t increased. Even with recession years included, the same tax rate in St. Louis County will almost always yield progressively higher amounts of revenue. This isn’t mentioned by library officials. The implication is that the library is getting by with the same paycheck since 1983.

This is what “Frequently Asked Questions” on the library’s website says:

“2. When was the last time the library asked for an increase?

“The last time StCl asked the voters for an increase was April 1983. That’s almost 30 years!

This is what material distributed by the library says:

“The Library has not asked for a tax increase since 1983.”

On April 18 the director of the St. Louis County Library system, Charles Pace, was a guest on the Charlie Brennan Show on KMOX to talk about the tax increase. An excerpt:

Brennan: “The last time the voters approved a tax increase for the county libraries was what, 1983?”

Pace: “1983 — almost 30 years.”

There was no mention of the tax rate maybe being increased without voter approval or any increase in revenue for the library over those almost 30 years. The impression again was that the library was getting by with the same funding as 1983.

In an April 23, 2012 article on the library tax hike in the Post-Dispatch it said this:

“The district has last asked for a tax increase in 1983, and it was approved.”

A gentle reader informed the Post reporter the tax rate could have still been increased. Even if if it had not, the amount of revenue for the library would increase as assessments continually increase over time.

This is what the group supporting Proposition L, Citizens for Our Library and Our Community, says on its website:

“The St. Louis County Library has not asked for a property tax increase in nearly 30 years – since 1983.”

*   *   *

Library director Charles Pace was asked about the tax rate in an Oct. 1, 2012 e-mail from a gentle library patron. Has it really been the same since 1983? He was also asked how much revenue has increased from the same tax rate. No response. The questions were asked again on Oct. 12. Still no response.

One citizen dug through old tax receipts and they indicated the tax rate has increased for the St. Louis County Library since 1983. One from 1987 showed an 11-cent tax rate. Since then, decisions of the Missouri Supreme Court allow for certain increases without voter approval. So the library’s   lawyerly wording about not asking for a tax increase could be true even if there have been several increases.

The Post-Dispatch did another article on the tax hike on Oct. 7 and there was a breakthrough on the revenue issue:

“The last time the library asked for a tax increase was in 1983. Tax revenue that year was $22.8 million.

“The tax rate has remained the same but increases in property assessments pushed the district’s tax revenue to $34.5 million.”

So the library has had a 50 percent increase in revenue since 1983. This is something Charles Pace and library officials have carefully avoided mentioning. Not in interviews, not on the library website, not on the campaign website, not in materials being distributed, not anywhere.

*   *   *

In an October 10 editorial, the Post-Dispatch endorsed Proposition L. It’s often said the Post never met a tax increase it didn’t like but that’s only about 98 percent true. The editorial began:

“Kudos to the St. Louis County Library for having kept taxes the same for nearly 30 years. That kind of stewardship should be rewarded with approval of the district’s request for a 6-cent raise in the property tax levy.”

But is it accurate that the tax rate has been kept the same for nearly 30 years? Also, the editorial did not mention that taxpayers have been providing  increasing amounts of tax revenue for nearly 30 years — as was reported in the Post-Dispatch article three days earlier.

The gentle reader sent an e-mail to the editor of the Editorial Page, Tony Messenger, and inquired about these matters and whether the editorial might have misled readers. The reader wondered if this was similar to how Post editorials misled readers on the MSD bond issue proposal earlier this year. No response.

Is the tax rate for the library the same as 1983 as library officials are insinuating and as the media reports?

What about the 50 percent increase in revenue for the library since 1983? Isn’t the library being deceptive by not mentioning this to voters?

These are issues St. Louis County voters should be more informed of before Nov. 6.

Tom Sullivan

10/15/12

Thanks to Bob & Sarah Davoli for this article.

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