Monday, April 30, 2012

Funding & Service Solutions For All (Mid-1980s)

In the summer of 1983, the MPL Board of Trustees notified the Brown Township Trustee that, for 1984, the Library would be charging the township $20,000 in its annual agreement to provide library services to Brown Twp. residents.  This was a substantial cost increase over 1983, but it was essential if the Library were to meet its operating expenses.  Based upon its larger service population, when compared with the proportion of total patrons served by the Library at the time, township residents should have been paying 41 percent of MPL’s anticipated 1984 budget, or $33,200 per year, instead of the 24 percent represented by the $20,000 price tag.

The Brown Township Trustee’s response was swift and, frankly, irritated.  The township had paid $12,500 in 1983 for Library services (balking at the requested $15,000 under the agreement), and $20,000 would have been a 62.5 percent price hike.  Since the State had frozen township contractual spending increases for 1984 to 4.5 percent over the previous year, the Library service price jump was seen as outrageously expensive.

In short, the Brown Township Trustee was content to discontinue the contractual arrangement and leave township residents without Library services for the first time in over 70 years.

But let’s not unduly paint the Brown Township Trustee as the bad guy in this scenario.  Township trustees, under state law at the time, were constrained by the 4.5 percent ceiling.  Twenty thousand dollars was just too far beyond that limit, and so the reaction was not unreasonable.

The difficulty lay in how township residents were paying for Library services in the early 1980s.  An annual flat fee generated considerably less revenue for the Library than a proportional allocation of property tax based upon the township’s property values and the quantity of patrons served. Using tax dollars instead of a flat fee would significantly enhance the Library’s financial base without unduly burdening township or town taxpayers.  The cost would be spread amongst a much larger total tax base, thereby reducing the individual impact on each landowner, and much more money would be generated to run the Library.  It would mean considerably improved Library services for both town and township citizens.

The solution, then, was simple:  Redefine the Library’s taxing district to include both Mooresville and Brown Township.  (In the early 1980s, only the Town of Mooresville fell within the Library taxing district.)  However, this modification, in practice, was anything but straightforward.  Much political acrimony arose during the arguments between town and township governments, whose respective legal representatives exchanged a flurry of adversarial correspondence.  Officials were initially entrenched in their respective positions.  Similarly, public reaction became emotionally charged and polarized.  The local political tacticians wrangled for two years until, in the summer of 1985, the Library taxing districts of Mooresville and Brown Township were merged into a single unit.  The MPL Board of Trustees adopted the merger resolution on June 3, 1985.

The consequence of the Library taxing district unification was enormous.  Both Mooresville and Brown Township residents received continued, high-quality Library services, to which they had been accustomed for nearly three-quarters of a century.  Through direct property tax allocation, both town and township residents benefited from a better financed Library.  This ultimately enabled construction (in 1987-1988) of a larger facility containing a vastly enhanced array of bibliographical resources at the public’s fingertips.

As the area population and businesses expanded through the 1980s into the 1990s, there would now be a Library equipped to satisfy the growing community’s greater informational and educational needs.  The taxing district merger, coupled with sound financial management by the MPL Board of Trustees and Director, made this a reality.

Throughout mid-1985 and 1986, the Library Board and Director conducted feasibility studies to determine if a new building could be constructed without undue burden to taxpayers through bonding and, equally as important, without new taxes.  Solid investment strategies from the late 1970s through the mid-1980s had garnered substantial fiscal rewards for MPL.   This sufficiently bolstered the Library’s available monetary resources, along with the additional tax revenues from the unified district, to underwrite a major construction project.

Bottom line:  The money for a new Library building would be available, and, finally, after nearly a decade, MPL could emerge from its grossly overcrowded Carnegie structure to a facility with room for future growth.  We’ll get to that story soon, but, for next time, we must sadly close a chapter in the Library’s century of public service:  the end of the Bonita Marley era.

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