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The Steuben Courier Advocate
  • Library seeks $786K tax levy in new funding proposal

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  • The Southeast Steuben County Library will seek a $786,000 annual tax levy from property owners in the Corning-Painted Post school district, library officials said Thursday in rolling out their new funding proposal.
    The tax rate is estimated at .41 cents per $1,000 of property value, which equates to $34.85 per year on a median $85,000 home.
    A public referendum has been set for Oct. 21.
    It’s the library’s second recent attempt to switch to the school district funding model. The library previously asked for a $960,000 annual tax levy with a rate of 50 cents per $1,000, or $43 per year on an $85,000 home. That plan was defeated by voters in December 2013 by a margin of 1,511 to 1,230.
    After that plan was defeated, the library announced a series of budget cuts in February. They eliminated two full-time positions, closed the library on Sundays, reduced public programs, and cut spending on book acquisitions and technology upgrades.
    That’s how they’re able to seek a lower amount in public funding this time, said Pauline Emery, the library’s executive director.
    The Corning-Painted Post school district will hold the Oct. 21 referendum on behalf of the library. If approved by voters, the $786,000 levy would go on residents’ school tax bills beginning in October 2015, and would be used for the library budget beginning in 2016.
    Once approved, the annual levy would stay in place indefinitely. The library would need voter approval anytime it wanted to increase the levy, and any increase would be limited by the same state tax cap applied to schools and municipalities.
    The school district model is widely used by public libraries in New York, including 38 of the 42 libraries in the Southern Tier Library System, said STLS director Brian Hildreth.
    Under its current funding model, the library gets roughly half of its funding - $575,000 - from contracts with six local municipalities. The rest comes from a mix of grants, donations, reserves, and interest from the library’s endowment.
    The library’s funding was cut by 10 percent the last time the last time it renewed its contracts with the municipalities, and the Town of Lindley opted out entirely.
    The current contracts expire at the end of next year, and since municipalities are struggling with the tax cap and state mandates, the arrangement isn’t stable long-term, Emery said.
    “We can see the writing on the wall,” she said.
    Also, the library’s reserves will be completely gone by the end of this year, Emery added.
    The library staff and board looked at all six funding options available for public libraries under state law, but the school district model remained the most cost-effective, so that’s why they decided to try a re-vote with a lower amount, Emery said.
    Page 2 of 2 - One of the criticisms raised by opponents leading up to December’s failed proposal was that it unfairly burdened residents with a new tax, particularly those in outlying areas who don’t use the library as much.
    However, under the proposed school district model, residents in the City of Corning and the towns of Corning and Erwin would pay 76 percent of the levy, with the rest split between 10 other municipalities, said library treasurer Harry Merritt.
    “The three largest and closest municipalities will be funding the bulk of the tax levy,” Merritt said.
    While most local government officials have told The Leader they wouldn’t be able to lower taxes if they no longer had to pay for their library from their municipal budgets, it would still ease the burden on them - and indirectly the taxpayers, Emery says.
    Another criticism was that about 750 of the 15,000 properties in the C-PP school district lie in Chemung County and already pay a tax for Chemung’s library system. Library officials tried to find a way to exempt them but were unable to, but were told it may be possible to make the exemptions after the plan is approved, Emery said.
    Emery says the $786,000 figure is the lowest the library could collect from taxpayers and remain viable. The library will continue to seek grants and donations to help make up the rest of the library’s $1.1 million annual operating budget, she said.
    The library will soon launch a summer-long campaign to educate residents on the new proposal.

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