LIBRARY ACCESS: County library privileges boil down to taxes

COLUMBIA CITY — “A friend of mine recently bought a home in Whitley County. He tried to sign-up for a library card and was denied. How can he be made to pay taxes for Whitley County, but denied access to our library?”That was the question posed on The Post & Mail’s Facebook page by Bobbie Alexander Funk, prompting a long string of comments.“Has anyone else ever heard of this? He was told that certain areas in the county aren’t covered,” Funk wrote. “What does that mean? I hope this is addressed and made right, because it certainly does not reflect well on Whitley County.”In fact, of the nine townships in Whitley County, two pay to support the Peabody Public Library in Columbia City. The other seven townships choose to support the South Whitley library, the Churubusco library or opt out of supporting any library at all.How is this decision made and by whom?According to Eugene Heckman, Thorncreek Township’s trustee, the decision to financially support the Peabody Public Library was decided when the new library was constructed. Township trustees and city officials made such decisions that now affect residents.“Columbia Township and Thorncreek Township agreed to pay into the new library,” Heckman said. “We thought all the trustees were going to support it, but after Columbia and Thorncreek signed on the dotted line, we found out we were alone.”When a property owner pays taxes, a portion of the tax is designated as a library tax if the township supports a library. Heckman said the townships that do support the library have higher property taxes, but supporting the library is important. For those residents in Union Township, part of the taxes allow access to the Peabody Public Library, but some property owners pay into Churubusco’s library.“It is somewhat confusing,” Heckman said. “It really comes down to each township and trustee.”Christina Fulk echoed Heckman’s sentiment on Facebook. “I know Union Township pays into Churubusco’s library,” Fulk said. “That makes no sense at all. I completely agree that something needs to change.”“This is absurd,” wrote Christy Phend. “Everyone should have access to their local library. Let’s start a petition.”In Larwill, public hearings were held to determine if the town would pay the library tax. A decision was made not to.Darcy Hoopingarner is the township trustee for Richland Township. Larwill’s choice to abstain from the library tax was decide before she became trustee.“This is a big controversy. Richland Township pays library taxes and has access to South Whitley,” Hoopingarner said. “The town of Larwill opted out. If you live in the Larwill city limits, you do not have library access and must buy a card.”What is the financial impact on property taxes for those who pay a library tax?“We pay $249 each year in additional taxes for the library,” Hoopingarner said. “We live in a simple one story home. There are many who own homes and properties that pay a lot more.”Heckman said while owning a previous property he was paying $453 a year. “It can add up,” Heckman said. “For those farmers that have a lot of land, that library tax can be thousands of dollars a year. However, if the cost was equally shared across each township, it might not be as much.”Jennifer Frazier Coy said she would rather pay less in property taxes and opt to buy used books. However, she recognized the benefit of sharing the tax burden.“The people who do use the library pay a lot more in property taxes,” Coy said. “If you want it (library access) then petition your township to raise your taxes. If all the townships participated then the taxes would be lower.”What option does a resident have if their particular township does not support a library? A $100 fee can give residents a library card. “Just do your research,” Hoopingarner said. “You will pay more in taxes for library access than the $100 the library charges. But we also feel supporting the library is important.”Although the $100 seems minimal compared to an additional $400 or more tacked on to a property tax bill, some Facebook followers find the fee a bit steep.“We don’t have an extra $100 for a library card, so my boys can only go to free programs at the library and not check anything out,” posted Jill Zorger. “I’d like to be able to check items out as well, but I’ve never been able to do it.”Heckman said there could be some possibility of the system changing. It would require the county’s commissioners to push for a county-wide library fee system, but Heckman is not optimistic that change will happen.“There are just some areas that are dead set against consolidating,” Heckman said.Barbara Baker Overdeer suggested those concerned with the current system should talk to the appropriate trustee.“The township trustees are the ones who make the decision whether or not you as a taxpayer in those townships can get a card,” said Overdeer. “I hope a lot of people read this. It has been a concern for years, but those trustees never ‘correct’ the situation. Don’t blame the library — it isn’t their fault. Those townships do not pay their fair share.”