Vote YES for the Kansas City Public Library

The Downtown Council supports the Kansas City Public Library’s campaign for voters to authorize an 8-cent increase in the property tax based operating levy – the first such request in 22 years – to maintain and modernize facilities and sustain and enhance essential services. The election is set for Tuesday, Nov. 6.

Today’s blog post is designed to explain the challenges faced by our libraries and why the DTC Board of Directors voted to support the Kansas City Public Library in this important election. Vote YES for your libraries on Nov. 6.

Single and a mother of four, working but apprehensive about her prospects of moving up, Theresa Hill set her sights at age 36 on getting the high school diploma she didn’t have.

It wouldn’t be easy. Too many alternative programs didn’t fit her work- and kid-packed schedule. Hill managed to complete one course of study, only to discover it wasn’t accredited.

She finally found an answer at the Kansas City Public Library, one of a number of libraries nationwide offering free enrollment in the flexible, self-paced Career Online High School. Hill looked into it, and “I just knew that this was the best fit for me,” she says. She’s now advancing toward a diploma, with plans to move on to college.

Theresa Hill discovered the Library’s Career Online High School while seeking options to continue her education in a way that fit with her busy schedule as a working mother. When she found the program, “I knew it was the right fit for me.”

She underscores the far-reaching role that the Library plays in the community – and the reason it is asking voters next week for an 8-cent increase in its property tax-based levy. The Library’s menu of programs and services, and public demand for­ them, continue to expand. Revenues have not.

Serving the community

Walk through any of the Kansas City Public Library’s 10 locations and, yes, you’ll see patrons browsing stacks of books and picking the brains of reference librarians. Traditional stuff, and still essential. But you’ll find many others searching for work on Library computers or using the Downtown Central Library’s business center to plot a startup. Students get live online help with homework. Residents near L.H. Bluford Branch at 31st and Prospect sweat through fitness classes. Outreach librarians fan out to preschools, childcare centers and senior living communities.

The Library last year offered more than 31,000 classes, peer learning groups and other training sessions to help people enhance their computer skills. Its evening speaking presentations, civic forums and other signature events, plus a rotation of exhibits through its two art galleries, drew nearly 103,000 attendees and visitors. All told, it counted more than 4 million in-person and digital visits.

Meanwhile, the Library levy has remained unchanged for more than two decades. The approved rate of 50 cents per $100 of assessed valuation was approved in 1996, and Missouri’s Hancock Amendment has nudged that downward year to year. Tax increment financing and other abatements in Kansas City have cut deeper: approximately $30 million over the past decade.

The proposed levy increase would just about cover that latter bite, generating an additional $2.8 million annually.

 About the Library Question

Approval of the November 6 measure would allow the Library to meet the growing demand for its services, as well as take care of facilities that are largely a quarter of a century old and behind on maintenance and renovation. Without the levy increase, Library Director Crosby Kemper says it will have to make some difficult decisions potentially affecting the level of services and maintenance of facilities.

The Kansas City Star has endorsed the proposed increase, calling it “long overdue.” Kemper notes, too, that the Library levy is not a single-use tax. It’s applied to a wide array of needs, touching a significant number of lives in the community. And the increase would be a modest one.

For the owner of a home with a market value of $139,000 – roughly the median in Kansas City – an 8-cent levy increase would mean an additional $1.76 a month in property taxes. The owner of a $75,000 home would pay less than an additional dollar a month.

“The modest increase in the Library’s levy – less than 1 percent of your current property tax bill – will allow us to maintain and expand services that are central to so many lives and life activities in our community,” Kemper says. “The 25 percent of our population who have no connection to the internet, the 70% of children in the Kansas City School District who can’t go online at home, the young men and women looking for help to find and apply for a job, the homebound seniors needing free book delivery – for them and so many others, the Library is a harbor. It’s essential. And it is essential that we can continue to meet their needs.”

Further reading