Two Kentucky libraries did not break the law when raising property taxes, the Kentucky Court of Appeals ruled in a 3–0 decision on March 20. The decision reversed two circuit court rulings against the libraries.
The decision follows a similar ruling on another library millage lawsuit. On January 30, the Kentucky Court of Appeals rejected a lower court’s ruling that McLean County Public Library had improperly raised taxes without voter approval. The same judicial appeals panel heard the Campbell and Kenton County cases.
Kentucky Library Association Past President Lisa Rice tells American Libraries that the McLean County decision helped pave the way for the most recent ruling.
“We were encouraged by the words of the presiding judge in the McLean case,” Rice says. “It gave us the grounds to say, ‘Yes, we can be treated as other taxing districts are treated.’”
In early 2013, Tea Party–affiliated Kentuckians represented by attorney Brandon Voelker sued Campbell and Kenton County Public Libraries, charging them with improperly raising property taxes for decades. The libraries claimed otherwise, maintaining that House Bill 44, passed by the Kentucky General Assembly in 1979, gives libraries taxing district status and allows them to raise tax rates by 4% each year without petition. Had the decision stayed, the libraries would have been forced to reduce hours, staff, and ultimately close their doors.
In April 2013, a Kentucky circuit court ruled that Campbell County Public Library had improperly raised its property tax rates since 1978. Another circuit court handed down a similar ruling against Kenton County Public Library, stating that it had improperly raised property taxes since 1967. The libraries were found to have not followed state law KRS 132.023 by raising tax rates without petitioning and gathering voter approval, which is required of libraries formed by petition.
The appeals court disagreed in its 20-page decision, stating that the libraries “acted in good faith and conducted their affairs in accordance with the directions of the executive branch, which was charged by law to implement the applicable statutes in question” and did not improperly raise taxes.
Moreover, the court ruled that the libraries do not have to refund millions of dollars in tax revenues collected and that they do not have to revert their tax rates to those in place when the libraries were formed—a move that could have prevented the libraries from operating at current levels. The court recognized the impact that the lower courts’ rulings would have had on Kentucky libraries. “The record in this case reflects that 80 library districts across Kentucky … would be adversely affected if the decision of the Campbell and Kenton Circuits Courts were to stand,” the court stated.
“The court set a strong precedent with this ruling,” Cathy Howard, president of the board of trustees of the Campbell County Public Library, said in a March 20 statement on the Campbell County Public Library website. “The decision confirms that this library and other libraries across the Commonwealth have been acting in good faith, following the direction the legislators intended. We have always been open and accountable to the taxpayers.”