Library Seeks 8-Cent Levy Increase, First in 22 Years

Wednesday, August 15, 2018
Courtney Lewis
Library Seeks 8-Cent Levy Increase, First in 22 Years

Kansas City, MO – The Kansas City Public Library is proposing an 8-cent increase in its property tax-based operating levy for the purpose of upgrading its facilities and sustaining its collections and expansive menu of children’s, family, senior, and other services.

The Library’s board of trustees voted Tuesday, August 7, 2018, to place the measure on the November 6 general election ballot. The increase, if approved, would be the first in 22 years.

Levy revenues account for 90 percent of the Library’s $20 million budget.

“The Kansas City Public Library is more vital than ever to our community, a safe, inclusive place for lifelong learning and exploration, civic and cultural engagement, creation and collaboration,” board President Jonathan Kemper says. “We are asking residents to allow us the resources needed to address the community’s current and future needs.”

An 8-cent levy increase would provide $2.8 million annually. “Without these resources, we must begin a process of difficult decisions which ultimately will reduce the level of our services and the maintenance of our facilities,” Kemper says.

The Library has 10 locations in the greater Kansas City area, and totaled more than 4 million in-person and online visits in 2017-18. Checkouts of books and other materials totaled nearly 2 million. Close to 200,000 people participated in adult and children’s programming, and its outreach extends to 16 senior living communities across the area.

In moving beyond traditional offerings, the Kansas City Public Library has helped redefine the role of public libraries in the past decade. It figured prominently in the founding of Digital Inclusion KC, a coalition of representatives from more than 70 nonprofits, government agencies, corporations, and other entities, and reinforces that leadership role through an array of digital training classes, learning circles, and one-to-one-sessions. Its health and wellness initiatives, including a dedicated health and wellness center at the L.H. Bluford Branch at 31st and Prospect, served more than 16,000 people in 2017-18. 

The Library also has drawn national renown for its public programming, not only revolving around authors and other individual speakers but also offering cultural performances and addressing civic and other issues. Presenters have ranged from Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer David McCullough to Supreme Court justices Stephen Breyer and Sandra Day O’Connor and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. 

The current voted Library levy rate of 50 cents per $100 of assessed valuation – approved in 1996 – has been rolled back by Missouri’s Hancock Amendment, which limits tax collections to a percentage of the growth in the personal income of state residents. Last year, it lowered the Library levy to 46.76 cents per $100 in assessed valuation.

Due in part to that, the Library has seen funds generated by the levy rise by less than 1 percent annually over the past decade. It has worked to offset relatively flat overall revenues through the deferment of maintenance and needed improvements of facilities, a nearly 7.5 percent reduction in staff over the past decade through attrition, and an increased reliance on donations and grants. Those measures are no longer sufficient, Kemper says.

The levy measure – officially the Library Question on Kansas City and Jackson County ballots – reads:
For the purpose of renovating and replacing aging Library facilities, enhancing spaces, safety and programming for children, seniors and families, expanding services, access to computers and collections to serve public demand, and for the general operation of public libraries, shall the Board of Trustees of the Kansas City Public Library District be authorized to levy an additional eight cent ($.08) tax over the present property tax for the free public library?