Kentucky Libraries Under Threat – an Interview with Wayne Onkst
Wayne Onkst, the Director of the Kentucky Department of Libraries and Archives (KDLA), spoke at the recent KLA/KSLA 2013 Joint Conference about the impact that the pending court cases against Campbell and Kenton County Libraries could have on the rest of the libraries in the state.Wayne Onkst, the Director of the Kentucky Department of Libraries and Archives (KDLA), spoke at the recent KLA/KSLA 2013 Joint Conference about the impact that the pending court cases against Campbell and Kenton County Libraries could have on the rest of the libraries in the state.
As we have been commenting on for some time, if the Appeals Court finds with the Plaintiffs and against the libraries, the results will be devastating around the state. We asked Mr. Onkst a few follow-up questions to put some data behind this perilous situation:
Q. - If the suit fails in the Appeals Court and no remedy is found in Frankfort, what is KDLA projecting the impact to be on Kentucky libraries?
A. The Circuit Court rulings provided no specifics on the tax rates, except to say that the library districts were using the wrong law for setting the rates. The attorney who filed the cases against the library argues that the property tax rates can only be changed by the same method in which the rates were originally established. Kentucky’s library districts were established either by obtaining a petition with 51% of the voters in the last election or by a ballot initiative. Because of changes to Kentucky law, the original rates for library districts created prior to 1979 were rolled back to compensate for changes in the level at which real estate was assessed. So it is not likely the tax rates would be returned to the original rates for library districts created before 1979. If the Circuit Court rulings are upheld, it is conceivable that the tax rates for library districts would be rolled back to 1979 levels.
If that is the case, 99 library districts would be impacted. Of the 99 impacted districts:
20 would lose 30-49% of their annual operating income
45 would lose 50-69% of their annual operating income
25 would lose 70% or more of their annual operating income
Q. - What guidance is KDLA offering about funding formulas in the mean time?
A. The Court of Appeals has issued a stay on the Circuit Court decisions while the decisions are being appealed. The process of setting tax rates this year has been completed in the same manner as it has been conducted for the past 34 years.
Q. - How are the other suits being treated by the courts while the Campbell and Kenton cases are under appeal?
A. The lawsuits in Boone, Montgomery, and Anderson Counties have not been heard in Circuit Court at this time.
Q. - Are there any Petition threats on the horizon, like Pulaski a few years back?
A. We are not aware of any additional threats at this time.
Q. How should KY libraries talk to their public about themselves in the mean time?
A. The strongest message librarians can make is to provide excellent service in meeting their communities’ needs. As always, we encourage libraries to inform their residents and community leaders about library service and its value to their communities.
We thank Mr. Onkst for his replies. While these individual libraries continue their legal case in the courts and the Kentucky Library Association works on legislative advocacy in Frankfort, EveryLibrary continues to monitor the situation. We are hopeful that a solution will be found in the courts or in the legislator. But if libraries all around Kentucky are forced to go out for petitions or votes to restore their funding to 2013/14 levels, EveryLibrary will be there. Your support will help make that happen.
Further Reading: Kentucky Library Suits