Taxes and your library

Taxes. Fees. Rate increases. Everybody like to complain about them, but most people aren’t sure where there tax dollars go. As we hobble into planning season for what will be a very lean budget in 2010, I’d like to shed some light on where the Kewaskum Public Library gets its funding. The whole funding procurement process is quirky and a little frustrating, but it’s also an interesting look at the effectiveness of this particular government service.
Mostly, our money comes from people in the Village of Kewaskum. After all, people who reside in the Village use our services more often than other population. In the first half of 2009, over 17,000 items have been checked out by people who live in the Village. That’s just under half of everything we checked out since January 1st. Since 45% of our budget comes from municipal funding, the ratio seems fair. The current municipal library tax rate is $.47 for every $1000 of assessed value of your property. You can find the assessed value of your property at the Washington County website. Now do some math:  divide your assessed value by 1000, then multiply the quotient by .47. That’s how much you pay every year to maintain a library. I pay $44.32. The people in the 16-unit apartment building across the street from the library pay around $15 each. Someone with a more expensive home may pay as much as $100. Or, in library terms, they just bought 4 James Patterson books. Thank you. This year, all of that municipal money comes to $107,000. Next year, it’s sure to be a smaller amount since that number includes $10,000 for our remodeling project.
Another large contributor to our funding is the Washington County tax levy. There are about 26,000 households in the townships and municipalities that do not maintain public libraries. These taxpayers pay over a million dollars per year for library services from the 5 public libraries in Washington County. Kewaskum gets about 5% of that money, distributed based on our circulation figures. We circulated 11,700 items to the townships in the first half of 2009. This year, we will get over $60,000 from Washington County taxes.
Because about 20% of our circulation goes across county lines, we will receive tax money from Fond du Lac County for circulation to the towns of Auburn, Ashford and Osceola. As well, we will get money from Sheboygan and Ozaukee Counties—in all about $20,000 between the three counties. This money offsets contributions from municipal taxpayers who, before 2007, had to shoulder the circulation to out-of-county library patrons.
From the State of Wisconsin, we get $0.00. Also called “no dollars and noty-no cents.” Although Wisconsin likes to pride itself in being a supporter of public libraries, in 2010 state taxes will not be given to maintain the salaries, benefits, technology, collections, facilities, supplies or grants for any of the 17 public library systems in the state. Instead, this money will come from something called the “universal service fund.” Maybe you’ve seen it? It’s part of your phone bill. That’s right, a portion of your phone bill has now replaced state taxes to fund library systems. We will see only a tiny portion of this money; most of it is spent on library system employee salaries, technology and facilities maintenance. In fact we get less than $2000 from state taxes the universal service fund for our library.
When all of the number crunching and munching is finished, the Kewaskum Public Library will receive $244,000 in 2009 to maintain our collection and staff. Our circulation is projected to be around 70,000 this year, which means that every item circulated costs around $3.50. That $3.50 is paid for by a combination of local and county taxes and state fees. Does that mean that everyone gets an equal share of library items? Unfortunately, although everyone helps pay for library services, only people who use library services benefit. The person who pays $50 or more in municipal library taxes most likely does not use the library at all; the person who pays $15 in taxes most likely is at the library several times a week for books, movies, kids’ programs and internet access. Remember that cost-per-item number? That $3.50 gets smaller with every item checked out. Library service becomes more efficient the more it’s utilized. So what’s stopping you from using the services you paid for? All you need is a library card.

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