Nothing sinister in ensuring libraries use tax money wisely

Al Mattingly
Al Mattingly

I am writing in response to former Calloway County library board member Ryan Alessi’s Feb. 6 op-ed. While Alessi built a reputation as a fair and common-sense journalist, this is one time he clearly did not hide his bias.

He accuses judge-executives in our commonwealth of using Senate Bill 48 as a power-grab to influence libraries at the expense of Kentuckians.

Alessi correctly asserts that the judge-executive could reject the nominees proposed by the board and propose one of their own, subject to fiscal court approval. Perhaps Alessi considers improper our use of the exact same process for appointees to the water district, airport, and hospital boards — plus, nearly all other boards with taxing authority.

What he does not tell you is that SB 48 leaves the current library board nomination system in place. If a fiscal court wishes to continue that process they may.

Alessi’s criticism of “politicizing” libraries seems to disappear in his proposal to elect board members. That proposition is beyond the scope of SB 48. But it serves to reinforce my position that whenever our constituents’ tax dollars are at stake, I want accountability, not a rubber stamp from an unelected, self-perpetuating taxing authority.

When a board has the ability to raise taxes, citizens should have some influence on that board’s members. That is simply not happening now.

Calloway County’s library reported $2.9 million cash on hand in its 2015 annual audit. Its expenses were $1 million, and it collected $1.5 million in taxes.

In my county of Daviess, the library sits on nearly $6 million in cash and non-capital investments, but rather than lowering tax rates or paying off debt, it is looking to expand a 51,000-square-foot facility that was built in 2007.

Many library districts collect more in property taxes than the counties in which they are located.

In fairness, Calloway did cut its library tax rate from 6.4 cents per $100 in property valuation in 2015 to 5.9 cents in 2016. What Alessi doesn’t tell you is the rate went from 2.5 to 6.4 cents in the 15 years from 2000-2015.

I applaud our libraries and their boards for what they do for their communities, but since 2000 they have been on a taxing and capital-spending spree.

Instead of locking millions of dollars into bricks and mortar I would encourage them to pay down debt and improve programming and technology. Instead of building their own silos, they should be partnering with others in our communities to bring programs to our schools, jails and inner cities.

SB 48 is an appropriate step in directing modest oversight and accountability over one of the major tax drivers in the state. I applaud Sen. John Schickel for his leadership on this matter.

Al Mattingly is judge-executive of Daviess County.

At issue: Commentary by Ryan Alessi, “Stop bill to politicize choice of library board members