Support and opposition build for East Baton Rouge Library Tax

Support and opposition build for EBR Library Tax

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Since the main East Baton Rouge Library on Goodwood Boulevard underwent an impressive transformation with a new building, new technology and amenities for patrons, it has seen circulation increase almost 10 percent. It is also up visitors. So far this year, nearly half a million readers have walked in.

"We have some of the best collections in this part of the United States," said Library Director Spencer Watts.

Now, the library system is depending on its patrons throughout the parish for support. The library's main source of income, a tax, is up for renewal.

The 11.1 millage tax is on the October 24 ballot. According to Watts, it would generate around $43 million. Most of that money goes to daily operation of the library system.

"That money all goes towards everything that we do, for books, it pays for the staff," said Watts. "It pays for the operational costs of the library and that includes everything from cleaning services to security cameras to electricity."

About 10 percent of the tax would go towards capital improvements, including bringing upgrades to older library branches.

However, what the library board calls a tax renewal, opponents are calling a tax increase.

"When you go to pay your taxes next year, your bill will be larger," said Tax Busters Chairman Dwight Hudson.

Voters approved a 11.1 millage rate in 2005, but that amount was rolled back over the years. By renewing the full amount, homeowners would see a small increase, around $6 at the most.

In total, the tax means about $100 per year for a home worth $160,000.

Hudson said his tax advocacy group support the library, but not how the renewal was presented.

"We feel it's inappropriate the way it's gone on the ballot. We think they're strong arming the tax payers by saying, look if you don't vote for it this time, we're going to lose all the funding for the library system so take it or leave it," said Hudson.

According to Watts, the tax makes up 98 percent of the system's income. If that tax fails, Watts said they have enough reserve funding to operate for about six months. He said that would mean drastic changes to the library and services residents enjoy.

"It would put us in a precarious situation," said Watts.

Meanwhile, the tax is finding support in the business community. The Baton Rouge Area Chamber gave their thumbs up on Monday.

"In addition to providing greater access to information technology, a quality public library system reflects a region's quality of life, an important component of economic development, business development, and talent attraction," said Adam Knapp, president and CEO of BRAC.

Copyright 2015 WAFB. All rights reserved.