Taney County voters are preparing to weigh in on a proposed property tax to fund a countywide library system this April and supporters say the county needs public libraries, and it needs them now.
If passed, the county’s levy would be greater than Stone County’s, but lower than the approved ceilings of both Christian and Greene counties.
“The private library can no longer financially and technologically meet the demands of its patrons,” said Marcia Schemper-Carlock, a supporter of the library levy proposal who has been working with other volunteers to organize a campaign, called the Coalition for the Library of the Future.
“The libraries have been manned by volunteers and funded by thrift shops, and while the volunteers are dedicated to the library, today’s patrons demand more,” Schemper-Carlock said. “Professionally trained staff are needed to offer assistance with resumé preparation, respond to research projects for local businesses, coordinate educational workshops and develop children’s reading programs. That’s in addition to buying content — books and other media.”
According to Brenda Allee-Bates, administration and management consultant for the Missouri State Library, no neighboring county levies a property tax for library services higher than 10 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.
Stone County, to the west, levies a rate of 10 cents. Christian County’s levy is 8.75 cents, but voters approved a rate of up to 20 cents when the measure was passed in 1947.
Several counties and taxing entities throughout Missouri collect levies lower than their approved ceilings in compliance with an amendment to the Missouri Constitution commonly referred to as the Hancock Amendment.
The amendment, in addition to requiring new taxes to be approved by voters, requires taxing districts to roll back levies if, in any given year, overall taxing district-wide assessed valuations, excluding new construction and improvements, would cause an increase in collections higher than the Consumer Price Index.
That’s why neighboring Douglas County’s library tax levy is only 8.27 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, despite voters approving a 10-cent rate in 1979.
In Greene County, the library tax rate is 24.18 cents. Voters approved a 30-cent rate in 1971.
Barry and Lawrence counties, to the west, have a combined library district with a voter-approved rate of 20 cents, passed in 1990. The levy currently is collected at 15 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.
“Taney County is one of only three counties in Missouri without a tax-supported library and the only first-class county without a tax-supported library,” Allee-Bates said.
Out of Missouri’s 114 counties, only Taney, Ozark and Lincoln counties don’t have public library districts funded by a tax.
The lack of funding means a lack of library services, said Gail Myer, a library supporter.
“The effects of this void are evident in our community,” Myer said. “Private libraries cannot keep up with the relevant technology services that the public needs and demands and they do not have access to many of the government library programs.”
Those government programs include large database systems and more, putting even more information at patrons’ fingertips.
“It is critical that we bring our county into the present and prepare for the future with services that help our families and work force succeed,” Myer said.
In August of last year, Caldwell County, a county of roughly 9,500 residents in northwest Missouri, and a subdistrict of Marion County, in northeast Missouri, each passed library tax levies. The Marion County Subdistrict No. 1 passed a levy rate of 15 cents, while Caldwell County’s levy rate was passed at 12 cents.
Marion County’s subdistrict includes the Palmyra School District. The library there, formerly called the Palmyra Bicentennial Public Library, was renamed beginning this year and out-of-district patrons are now being charged a $35 annual fee per household.