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Metro East library district approves 8% tax levy — a compromise for some concerned patrons

The Collinsville Library, pictured here, is part of the Mississippi Valley Library district, which also serves Fairmont City.
Mississippi Valley Library District
The Collinsville Memorial Public Library is part of the Mississippi Valley Library District, which also serves Fairmont City.

Trustees of the Mississippi Valley Library District, which serves about 34,000 people in Collinsville and Fairmont City, voted unanimously to approve an 8% increase in the tax levy on Monday night.

The decision was a win for some in the district who are worried about the library’s finances and general direction.

“I think this shows what a successful grassroots movement does, when the community comes together,” said Michael Treece, a former district board member. “Finally, the right conclusion came about.”

Initially, Executive Director Kyla Waltermire proposed an 11% increase to the library's tax levy for fiscal 2024, which runs from July 2023 to June 2024. The levy describes what portion of taxes the library district will use to fund its budget.

However, the 11% proposal is actually more than the taxing district can pull from taxpayers. Board President Jeanne Lomax and Secretary Lisa McCormick countered last week with a proposed 5% increase.

This proposal drew a strong rebuke from some area residents, who said their library was being defunded. A handful of library patrons showed up early to Monday night’s meeting to speak against the 5% proposal. Public comment from both sides drew strong testimony.

Lomax, who was first elected in April, said the eventual compromise — the increase of 8% — does not constitute defunding.

“It’s got a lot of people riled up, and this is what we see out of it,” Lomax said. “There was a lot of animosity here because of those kinds of statements, and it’s unfortunate.”

In the end, the library’s tax levy will increase to $1.24 million following the board of trustees’ 7-0 vote. The more modest 5% increase would have created a $1.21 million levy, according to documents from the library district’s finance committee. That’s a difference of $34,536.

For the median home in Collinsville, worth $182,000, there will be an estimated increase of $9.38 in property taxes next spring. In Fairmont City, where the median home is worth $100,000, there will be an increase of $4.95, according to district documents.

Property values in the district increased from $534.46 million to $613.84 million from last year to this year, according to those documents. That means the total amount residents owed increased — even as the tax rate stayed the same.

Monday night's meeting reflects an ongoing clash between new members of the board and some library patrons that has escalated tensions.

Lomax, McCormick and two other new trustees won their elections last November with the backing of Madison County Board Chairman Kurt Prenzler, a sometimes controversial Republican.

The new board president said her goal is to ensure the library does not push any agenda and to make all patrons feel welcome.

“I want you to be able to walk into the front door and not see that our library leans in any direction,” Lomax said.

The annual tax levy will cover all three locations for the district, including the Collinsville and Fairmont City locations, in addition to the historic Blum House adjacent to the Collinsville branch.

Much of the levy will be used to cover increases in staff salaries, said Waltermire, the executive director. Part-time workers make minimum wage — now $13 per hour — but that will increase $1 per hour next year.

However, it will not help cover the rising costs of doing business due to inflation, she said. The levy will also not cover fixing the faulty heating and cooling system in Fairmont City and eventually replacing an aging elevator in Collinsville.

After the public testimony, McCormick said it's just not possible for the increase to solve all those issues.

“11% won’t get you an elevator,” McCormick said. “I wish it would, but it won’t.”

Those bigger projects will need to be paid for by a fundraising effort, Waltermire said. Many members of the public who spoke in defense of the new trustees said they’d be willing to help fundraise for the projects.

For Waltermire, it’s a good sign to see this many people involved with their local library district. The passion can make her job challenging, she said.

“I’m ready to move on and get started on the next thing,” she said.

Will Bauer is the Metro East reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.