You Want Library Posts, You Get Library Posts!
In my neverending quest to be an expert on the most obscure local government topics possible, I now present to you the St. Louis County municipal library system! Nine municipalities have library systems that predate the St. Louis County library system: Webster Groves, Kirkwood, Ferguson, Richmond Heights, Maplewood, Brentwood, Valley Park, University City, and Rock Hill. In the interest of full disclosure, plus some local pride, I am president of the U. City library board. Anyway, the county library newsletter recently had some great articles on municipal libraries, which I have scanned in and present to you here. What is the point of this post, you ask?
Each of these nine local libraries has its own local property tax. The residents of these nine systems pay this tax not the county libarary tax. All nine have higher tax rates than the county system, which is 15 cents per hundred dollars of assessed valuation. The attached article has the tax rates, although I know University City’s rate has decreased significantly since this list was put together, and others may have as well. The difference in tax rates is pretty small in real terms, but it’s there. So, finally, I am getting to my point …
Should these nine municipal libraries merge into the county system, as former library districts in Clayton and Florissant did decades ago? Let’s take them each as they come. University City, Webster Groves, Kirkwood, and Ferguson are four of the larger municipalitites in St. Louis County, and as such are capable of supporting entities such as libraries, and more on their own. I have been to three of those four buildings, and each is very impressive, with a substantial collection. While all may be close to existing county system libraries, I really don’t see any gains for any of the above four cities in consolidating their library systems with the county’s. The tax savings would be very small, and the residents of these four communities like having their own, wonderful libraries.
Now let’s take Brentwood, Richmond Heights, and Maplewood. Each of these is a much smaller town, but all are known for one set of things, tax-wise: retail shopping and sales tax dollars. All three have very low property tax rates just above the county rate and all three have low property taxes in general, because sales tax revenues fund most of city government. Not coincidentally, with the tremendous retail growth in all three cities during the past decade, all three have new library buildings for their residents. Maplewood, in particular, is not close to any existing county libraries, although parts of Richmond Heights and Brentwood are not far. I don’t see any real gains or reasons for consolidation for any of these three systems. The current tax system favors all three of them and the local libraries are easily well-supported.
This brings us to Rock Hill and Valley Park. They are the two smallest cities listed, and Rock Hill has by far the highest tax rate. Valley Park is close to exising county libraries, while Rock Hill is not. (My guess is that families want to be able to make a very short drive or walk in order to get to the libaray, and distances that would be fine for most things are too far for the library.)
Rock Hill is well-known for its recent financial difficulties although things are improving, thanks (and I use that term very loosely) to retail projects brought about by eminent domain. Nonetheless, Rock Hill’s residents would benefit from the large tax cut. With Valley Park’s small population and low tax rate, I have to wonder about the quality of their library (which I admit I’ve never been to).
Final recommendation: Valley Park should dissolve its library system and enter the county system. Rock Hill should also dissolve its system and attempt to join Webster Groves’ or Brentwood’s system. If that does not work, Rock Hill should join the county system also. The other seven municipal systems should remain as they are. Now go read some books!