By Randy Pierce
Whether or not the Fairview Heights Public Library will be supported with funding directly from the city’s general fund or through a tax collected from local property owners is a decision expected to be made by the city council at its meeting scheduled for next Tuesday, December 7, beginning at 7 p.m.
If the council goes in the direction of the tax, it will be the first time in the history of Fairview Heights that property ownership would be impacted in this way. Since its incorporation in 1969, the City of Fairview Heights has operated without collecting any property tax, instead relying heavily on the revenues generated through the sales of retail products from the businesses located within its boundaries.
Coming before the city council next Tuesday as part of this scenario are two pieces of legislation related to the funding for the library. Both are ordinances that are up for the second of two required public “readings,” the first having been given at the November 16 meeting.
These complex ordinances are not actually read in their entirety but by “heading only” for the purpose of saving time and because the voting members of the council have had ample time to become familiar with them since they were forwarded out of one of its committees earlier in November.
The first of the two ordinances calls for the actual levy of a tax to support the library which is required by state law. The other ordinance calls for the abatement of that tax, a piece of legislation that has been traditionally approved by the council for many decades. What that abatement action does is eliminate the collection of the tax levied in the other ordinance.
Therefore, council members voting yes on the abatement legislation are actually saying they do not wish to see the tax implemented and instead favor the money needed coming from the city’s general fund which covers a huge majority of the municipality’s day-to-day operating expenses.
A decision in this regard is required before the end of this calendar year, again according to state law. There is a board of trustees appointed by the mayor with the approval of the city council which oversees the general operations of the library, meeting once a month.
That board is required to submit a formal written request to the city for the funding support it anticipates needing for the forthcoming fiscal year which starts on May 1, 2022. This request does not specify or express a preference as to whether or not the funding comes directly from the city or as a result of a property tax.
Library Board President Don Baden’s letter makes it clear that the correspondence, consistent with what has been done previously, should not be construed “as a demand or request” for a property tax.
The total requested by the library board is determined on a per capita basis taking in the population of the city. Expenses included in it are for such things as building upkeep and maintenance, insurance coverage, furnishing and equipment, an annual audit plus retirement fund and Social Security contributions for employees.
During a discussion of this matter at the city council administration committee meeting, Mayor Mark Kupsky pointed out the question is not if the city does or doesn’t want a library because, by law, it is mandated to have one.
The figure included in the library’s letter to the mayor for fiscal year 2022-23 is $800,500 but Kupsky is quick to caution that is the maximum of that per capita total and not necessarily how much the library board will get to spend. Instead, it is what the library is legally entitled to receive by law.
As an example of how this works, Kupsky mentioned that the same total in the library letter was set at $720,293 while what was actually asked for was just under $700,000 with the actual amount spent being $478,000 and that came from the city’s general fund, not any property taxing source.
Further clarified by Kupsky was the fact that if the tax is not abated, and therefore put into motion, the money received by it for the city will not be realized until 2023.
Alderman Pat Peck explained that she had been in contact with the county clerk’s office to see what kind of an impact this tax would have on local property owners. A home valued at $150,000, she went on, would be paying an annual tax of about $89 to support the library, based on current figures.
The city’s general fund, which is the other alternative for supporting the library, is by and large made up of revenue generated from retail sales tax which, while it is showing strong signs of rebounding in recent months, took a major hit during the coronavirus pandemic when stores and businesses suffered from diminished customer traffic.