Library Director Spencer Watts told Metro Council members Wednesday that an 11.1-mill property tax would give the library system the necessary money to renovate seven of its oldest branches over the next decade.
The Library Board decided last month to ask the Metro Council to place an 11.1-mill property tax on the fall ballot when the library system’s property tax comes up for renewal. Though voters approved the 11.1 mills in 1995 and 2005, some Metro Council members have called on the library to ask for a lower tax this year because the growth in property values provides more revenue.
The Library Board declined and is making its case to the Metro Council to place the 11.1 mills on the ballot. The proposal would translate into a property tax increase for East Baton Rouge taxpayers, who currently pay a library tax of 10.78 mills — the level the tax was rolled back to after property values increased, thus providing the same amount of revenue.
Baton Rouge residents with $150,000 homes that are subject to homestead exemption pay $80.85 a year for library taxes, while those with $200,000 homes pay $134.75 a year for the library, according to the Assessor’s Office. If the tax increase goes through, tax bills would rise to $83.25 for owners of $150,000 homes and $138.75 for owners of $200,000 homes.
Watts told the Metro Council the additional mills would help them fund $24.8 million in much-needed improvements to the Jones Creek, Greenwell Springs, Baker, Scotlandville, Central, Zachary and Delmont Gardens branches.
Watts said the Main Library and Fairwood Branch Library, both of which opened in the last two years, inspire people and are technologically up to date. He said they want the rest of the libraries in the system to offer similar amenities — a favorite of which is the teen rooms.
As the renovations would be made, the library’s cash balance would start to dwindle. Some Metro Council members have complained that the library has too much money in reserves, but the library’s cash balance would shrink to $26.8 million in 2016 and continue to drop to $1.5 million by 2025, with an 11.1-mill tax.
That worried Councilman Joel Boé, who asked how the library could continue to make improvements and renovations starting in 2025 with only $1.5 million at its disposal. Watts said they would need to spend years building back up their reserves before continuing to make renovations.
“I know there’s been a lot of rhetoric about you having too much cash, but in 10 years from now, you’re not going to have a whole lot,” Boé said.
Councilwoman Ronnie Edwards agreed.
“Based on the numbers, it appears that you’re really running lean, and I don’t know what any concern would be on the part of the public based on the number of branches in the system,” she said.
Follow Andrea Gallo on Twitter, @aegallo.