The power to tax

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If you live in an incorporated area of Tulsa County, you are in the jurisdiction of seven separate entities with the power to levy property taxes, namely:

  1. Your municipality
  2. Your school district
  3. Tulsa County
  4. Tulsa City-County Library
  5. Tulsa City-County Health Department
  6. Tulsa Community College
  7. Tulsa Technology Center

The library system currently receives 5.32 mills. Once you apply the assessment ratio and homestead exemption, the owner of a home worth $100,000 pays $53.20 in taxes every year to support the library. The library's budget gets bigger automatically as property values rise.

The first of two items on today's ballot is a permanent increase in the library's millage of 0.8 mills. For that $100,000 homeowner, that's another $8 a year. For the library, that represents a 15% increase in the tax rate, a 15% increase in the budget even if property values don't increase. The tax increase will not expire but would have to be expressly repealed if the people don't want it anymore.

The second item is a $79.1 million bond issue, which will also increase property tax by an estimated 2 mills over the next fifteen years. That's another $20 a year for the $100,000 homeowner.

So if both propositions pass, the $100,000 homeowner would be paying about $80 a year in taxes for the library system.

The question in my mind is not whether the library system is a good use of tax dollars, the question is whether the library system is the most needy or worthy recipient of the additional money they seek. As I watched a presentation today by a library official about the vote, I came to the conclusion that it is not.

The presentation made it clear that we have a very good system, with nearly every library in the system either new or significantly refurbished and expanded, mostly using funds from the 1998 bond issue. The presentation spoke not of replacing decrepit or dangerous buildings, but instead of keeping facilities "fresh." The current Central Library building is in excellent shape, and the library official confirmed that the building could indeed be expanded upwards by two stories, while pointing out that doing so would mean closing Central Library for a year or more and far from fixing the parking problem, it would create more demand for the library's limited spaces.

The library system is not in jeopardy. They are not short of funds. The facilities are in good shape. The library system is seeking to max out its allowed operating millage in hopes of expanding staff and services, but its current level of service is well funded.

The library system has been largely unscathed by the budget crises of recent years, thanks to its dedicated funding source. I can't justify giving the library system more money when many other more critical government functions are short of funds -- e.g., the jail. We need to reserve that taxing capacity for other parts of local government with greater needs. That's why I'm reluctantly voting no on both propositions today.

MORE: Bobby Holt is also voting no.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on December 14, 2004 12:34 AM.

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