Voters to decide on tax hike for public libraries

Published: Apr. 12, 2015 at 1:51 AM CDT|Updated: Apr. 12, 2015 at 2:36 AM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - At New Orleans public libraries you'll find students who say they rely on them to help with their school projects.

"When we have science projects, we like to search for information and fun facts," 10-year-old New Orleans East Student Jennifer Huyn said. The operators at the libraries say they're not just a source for books but also a big source for access to computers. "New Orleans is one of the least wired urban areas in the country. Its estimated 40% of people have no internet access," said Charles Brown, the Executive Director of New Orleans Public libraries.

The East New Orleans Library is one of the city's 14 public locations. But the head of the libraries says they'll run out of reserves to operate all of them next year if voters don't approve a tax hike on next month's election ballot. If they don't get the increase he says they will have to take drastic steps.

"It would be a combination of library closings and a reduction in hours," Brown said.

Right now New Orleans property owners pay 3.4 mills to fund the libraries. The tax hike calls for an additional 2.5 mills which means property owners would pay a total of 5.54 mills. For those with a homestead exemption and a home valued at $100,000 that portion of your tax bill goes from $0:79 monthly to $1.39.

For a higher valued home, for example, one valued at $300,000, the monthly fee goes from $6.00 a month to $10.56 per month.

However the local non-profit Bureau of Governmental Research that educates voters on what's on the ballot, says raising property taxes is not the only way to fund libraries. "It can be funded out of the general fund if the city sees it as a priority,"Janet Howard, President of the Bureau of Governmental Research said.

Howard also says a spending plan is not enough. She says the library managers need a strategic plan to better explain the reason for the property tax increase. "You need a strategic plan to know if you're spending the tax dollars on the right things," Howard said.

She recommends doing a strategic plan first and then put it on the ballot in the fall. However the library supporters disagree. In the end it will be up to the voters to have the final say on Election Day, May 2nd. Early voting starts April 2nd and end April 25th.