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Lexington library faces questions over funds

The Lexington Public Library came under criticism on Tuesday from Urban County Council member George Myers, who questioned whether the 5 cents the library gets from each $100 in local property taxes was going to the "highest and best use."

Library officials including board chairman Larry Smith were called before the city's Budget and Finance Committee to answer questions about finances.

Myers requested their appearance after the library board declined the mayor's request to contribute $342,000 to the city's general fund to help the cash-strapped city make up a projected $13 million budget shortfall.

Smith said the funds requested by the mayor did not come from the city's general fund, so writing the city a check for $342,700 would be "a contribution from the dedicated property tax."

The tax raises about $13 million of the library's $14 million budget annually. The library's position is that the tax is mandated by state statute to go to the library and could not be diverted to city coffers.

Myers asked city law commissioner Logan Askew whether the 5 cents was, in fact, a dedicated tax, or simply an appropriation from the city. Askew said he believed it was more a "mandatory appropriation" than a tax levy. But, he indicated later, the difference between the two might be semantics.

State statutes permit the local government, library board and state department of libraries and archives to enter into an agreement that the amount the library receives from property taxes could be less than the 5 cents, Askew said.

But even if that interpretation were correct, he said, there is no provision for what happens if the parties do not agree.

Askew said he would research on the topic further and get the information to council.

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