The idea of using sales tax revenue to pay for at least part the proposed Lawrence Public Library expansion deserved more consideration than it received from Lawrence city commissioners Tuesday night.
Before commissioners voted to place the $18 million expansion project on November’s ballot, they were asked to consider using all or part of the city’s share of the 1 percent county sales tax to pay for the project. Using the sales tax would have reduced or eliminated the need for a 1.5-mill tax increase for 20 years to pay for library construction and a permanent 0.5-mill increase to cover additional operating costs for the new building.
Commissioners, however, dismissed the sales tax idea saying that voters who approved the sales tax expected that money to be set aside for parks and recreation projects. Although it’s true the sales tax was sold to voters at least partially on that basis, the actual ballot questions put no restrictions on how the money would be used.
However, even if the sales tax revenue was specifically restricted as being for recreation, it isn’t much of a stretch to justify the library as a recreational effort. The library may offer fewer physical activities than a recreation center, but many people certainly would consider the movies, books and other library classes and events as recreational activities. There’s no reason the sales tax needs to be permanently dedicated to building new recreation centers or playing fields especially when the city’s population isn’t growing significantly.
It would be especially appropriate to use sales tax revenue to fund the ongoing operating expenses for the larger library rather than permanently raising property taxes by 0.5 of a mill for that purpose. The 1.5-mill levy could be used for 20 years to fund the expansion and then eliminated.
Even some taxpayers who support the library expansion are concerned about increased property taxes, especially in the current economy. Shifting part of the expense of the expansion to the local sales tax might have mitigated some of that concern.
It’s too bad city commissioners weren’t willing to get a little more creative in their library financing plans.