County taxpayers should recognize the value in libraries

There’s a recurring theme during the county budgeting hearings each year, when the directors of the county’s public libraries come in to ask the Board of Supervisors to continue providing financial support.

The librarians go through their presentations, bringing stories of community connections and, this year, financial calculations that show the economic impact a public library has on a small town. Then the supervisors hem and haw about wanting to provide that $160,000 or so in annual support. Last week, one supervisor said he thought the county’s smallest towns should be levying their residents more, so that the towns could pick up the cost of the libraries. The supervisors also pointed out, somewhat incredulously, that Calhoun County gives more funding to the libraries, per capita, than any other county in the state.

The fact is tossed out each year with a mixture of disdain and disbelief. And every year I leave that particular meeting scratching my head, wondering why in the world anyone would think it’s a bad thing to support libraries.

Libraries here provide a county wide service. I hold library cards in Rockwell City, where I live, and Lake City, where I often do business. I have friends who live in the country, equidistant from both towns, who have cards at both libraries, too. And those smaller towns, with 300 or fewer residents, aren’t just loaning books to people who live within city limits, they provide materials and computer access for anyone who comes in, regardless of where they live.

In the grand scheme of Calhoun County’s total budget, that $160,000 isn’t the biggest expenditure. The payoff is great, too – a better educated community, a community that serves people who cannot afford internet access in their own homes, a community with a gathering place open to anyone.

I was talking with some friends about this situation, and another recent conversation about property taxes. An older, wiser friend offered his own philosophy on the situation. Taxes, he said, are the rent we pay for the privilege of living in America, the cost we pay in exchange for the rights and quality of living that we enjoy and hold dear.

As an avid user of the library, I think the return on our annual property tax investment is quite good.  If you’re worried your tax dollars are being ill-spent by making sure our libraries have enough money to keep up with the rising cost of books, computers and resource materials, maybe you should take the time to go use one.