Tensions were high at a Thursday evening meeting where the Fiscal Court, Library Board and many concerned citizens convened at the Grayson County Public Library to discuss the proposed 0.6 percent library tax hike.
Bunching into one of the small, but brightly decorated meeting rooms typically used for children’s programs, the Fiscal Court was first to take the floor.
The group was in adamant agreement that while they were fully behind the construction of a newer, better library, they were seriously opposed to any increase in tax rates.
“We’re definitely not opposed to a new library,” First District Magistrate Harold Johnson told the group, “I guarantee you that.”
“I’m not against this library either, it’s the tax increase that’s the problem,” Bill Skaggs, magistrate of the 3rd District, agreed.
The other magistrates fell into agreement, with District 6’s Curtis Wells adding, “There’s a 12.7 percent unemployment rate and even the people that are working are barely making it. It don’t matter what percent, [tax payers] don’t like the word ‘tax increase,’ and I don’t either.”
Judge Executive Gary Logsdon said of the tough economic times at hand, “I have a good job, but it’s rough even with a good job.”
Logsdon went on to say, “Raising taxes is not the answer. Utilize what you’ve got in better ways instead of sticking your hand in someone’s pocket.”
The group was also adamant about wanting the public to understand that the library tax rate is up to the Library Board, and is in no way controlled by the Fiscal Court.
The tax increase in question was a jump from the current rate of 6.0 cents per $100 of appraised value to the proposed new rate of 6.6 cents per $100.
The library board had two state-suggested options to chose from in setting the rate, both of which were a slight increase over the former rate. In order to bring in the same amount of total revenue as last year, the state recommended a ‘compensating’ rate of 6.4 cents per $100 of appraised value.
Alternately, the group could raise that to 6.6 cents per $100 in order to receive four percent greater revenue over last year, an amount that would equal approximately $20,000 in additional revenue each year, according to the group.
The 0.4 cent ‘compensating’ increase would translate to about a two dollar per year increase in taxes for someone with a home valued at $50,000.
The 0.6 cent increase would cost that same person an extra three dollars above last year’s rate.
The extra revenue would go toward the construction of the new library which is slated to be built across from the Judicial Center on Carroll Gibson Boulevard.
To the tax payers present, however, no amount of increased taxes felt justified, and many took issue with the idea of constructing a new library at all.
“We have a library and I don’t see a thing in the world wrong with it,” Marcella Lucas addressed the crowd. “I don’t see any sense in taxing us to the hilt and building fancy new buildings.”
Marie Watkins stood, speaking through tears. “I can’t afford another tax,” she pleaded, “Let’s lay it aside for a while and take care of our people.”
Watkins, a cancer survivor, explained that ongoing medical costs combined with a fixed income create enough difficulty for her and others in similar situations without additional taxes. “Why put more on people when your doctor looks at you and says ‘stress is bad for people with cancer?’”
Former magistrate Brenis Hudson advised the Library Board, “I think if you do it, people’s going to frown on you more in ten years than if you let it ride.”
Kyle Cannon, a member of the Library Board, spoke up, explaining, “The last thing we want to do is arbitrarily raise taxes on anybody. Above all, we want to be fiscally responsible with the money we do have.”
Cannon explained that the current library is significantly below the recommended size to serve our community, and that the new structure has been planned with the utmost concern for being responsible with the money available.
Library Director Lisa Jones said that the group had already voted to approve the 6.6 cent tax, saying “It’s a done deal on paper,” but adding that the group would be open to discussing the decision further after hearing the comments from the public and from the Fiscal Court.
“We do not want to create an undue hardship for the population we serve,” Jones told the crowd.
District 2 Magistrate Depresto Gary told Jones and the Board, “You all do a good job, we all know that.”
Logsdon agreed, adding “We’re willing to help in any way we can without raising taxes. I think working together, we can achieve any goal you all strive to do.”
As the Library Board took center stage and officially called their meeting to order, the crowd grew quiet and no one volunteered for any further public comment.
Cannon reiterated about the previous decision to go with the 6.6 cent tax, “We didn’t come to that decision lightly. We never do.”
He then said of the new library, “We could do so much more for the community, for the kids. If we feel like we can take the compensating rate and make that happen, we should.”
Jones also called the new library’s construction “an important step to take for our community,” then added, “but we don’t want to do that on anybody’s back.”
Cannon quickly made a motion to rescind the previous decision to raise the rate to 6.6 cents per $100 of assessed value, and instead to instate a rate of 6.4 cents.
The measure passed unanimously.