Bement library officials seek tax rate increase
BEMENT – Bement's library system dates back to 1856, when early residents started a school, and then a library in a private residence.
Eighty years later, in 1936, the library was legally organized as a township library supported by a 1.5 cent per $100 of assessed valuation tax rate.
Fast forward another 70 years. The library's now in a 3,600-square-foot building of its own, built in 1989 with community donations and loans that are now paid off.
But the tax rate is still the same, something library supporters hope to change in the upcoming election. They're asking voters to double the tax rate to 30 cents per $100 assessed valuation, which would cost owners of a $100,000 house about $50 a year.
It's the library board's second attempt. The first, last November, failed by nine votes.
Library Director Carol Bowen said the library's current budget is about $60,000, supported, like the construction project, by donations from the public. But costs are increasing, Bowen said, and the budget and the donations aren't keeping pace.
"We need the increase partly to buy books," Bowen said. "And we'd like to do some programs. We aren't doing as many for kids as we used to. Costs are increasing. The light bill I paid in March was $100 more than the one I paid in February. We're frugal here. We turn the heat down."
Bowen and the library's four other employees all work part time.
Harry Porter, head of the board, said the installation of online services had dramatically increased library costs. Internet service costs have jumped from $25 to $100 a month, telephone bills have doubled, and service to the Lincoln Trail system just increased $9 a month, Porter said.
"We have explored all areas of cost cutting and fee increases but these wouldn't save enough to balance our budget," Porter said. "We need the public's help."
He said the board forecasts a working deficit of $4,000 to $6,000 a year if the tax increase doesn't pass. Porter said revenues have also decreased because farmland assessments have been declining and because an annual state grant is based on population and population in the district, which includes Ivesdale, has declined.
He said statistics show usage at the library, which houses more than 15,000 books, is very high.
"More than 3,000 items are checked out each month, and the district has a total population of 2,418 people," Porter said.. "That's something we're very proud of."
Library board member and treasurer Kenneth Wright said the tax increase would cost farmland owners 33 cents an acre, about $26.64 for an 80-acre tract.
Wright said the board has a small reserve, but board members want to keep that on hand for unexpected costs like the roof they had to replace two years ago.
"For a library our size, we're first-rate," he said. "We have Internet for people who don't have it at home. We have videos that are popular – and free. We're hooked up to Lincoln Trail so we have access to that system."
"Nobody likes a tax increase but this one's very small," Wright said. "And we haven't had an increase in 71 years."