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Pulaski County Library: Conservative Group Tries To Disband District Over Tax Hike

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The Kentucky Capitol in Frankfort.
The Kentucky Capitol in Frankfort.

A group of Tea Party sympathizers in Pulaski County, Ky., is trying to shut down the county library system's special taxing district over a tax hike, a move opponents say could close down the entire library system in the county.

The group aims to shutter the Pulaski County library's special taxing district after the district increased taxes by $1 over the last year, said Barbara Sanders, who is organizing a petition drive for the cause. The petitioners want a new taxing district formed under the county's fiscal court, Sanders said, which would allow for increased oversight and potentially decreased taxes.

However, library officials in Pulaski County said that Kentucky state law could trigger the closure of the entire library system and the sale of all its assets if the new district is formed. Charlotte Keeney, the county library director, said that according to her research, the assets of the current taxing district -- including buildings, books and furniture -- would have to be sold if the district is dissolved, effectively closing the library system in the largely rural county of 60,000.

Under Kentucky law, Sanders and her allies would need roughly 6,500 valid signatures from county residents by Dec. 11 to put an end to the current district. Sanders said her group is not trying to close the library system, but rather to rein in the current district and put it under the control of the fiscal court.

Keeney told The Huffington Post that Sanders and her allies are part of the local Tea Party, but Sanders said the groups are not one in the same. The groups share the same beliefs, and her allies sympathize with the Tea Party, she said.

"We share some of the same ideals; we don't have a formal Tea Party in Pulaski County," Sanders told HuffPost. "We have people sympathize with it."

Sanders outlined a campaign that echoed many Tea Party principles, calling the library taxing district "taxation without representation." In her description of the group's goal, Sanders centered primarily on the district's decision to increase taxes last year, adding up to what she said was a $4 tax hike since 2006. The money has been used primarily to fund bonds to pay for new buildings, Sanders said.

Andrew Hartley, an attorney for the Kentucky Department of Local Government, said it's tough to say if the library system would actually close due to the petition, as there is no case in Kentucky that would set some kind of precedent for what Sanders is trying to do. Under Kentucky law, the fiscal court does not currently have the power to block library tax decisions. A new special taxing district would not be expected to give the county fiscal court more control, Hartley noted, due to state law that makes districts like the library's independent.

Keeney said that Sanders' desire would not be simple to implement. The county's $10 million in outstanding bond debt used for the construction of new buildings would prevent the fiscal court from forming a new special taxing district until the debt is paid off, she said.

In terms of the bond obligation, Hartley said the decision to form a new district would be impacted by whether the outstanding bonds were deemed a "contractual obligation" of the current district.

"These are complicated legal questions that have to be answered," Hartley said. "It may have to be ultimately decided by a court of law.”

The Pulaski County petition comes as there is a new focus on special taxing districts in Kentucky. Last week, state Auditor Adam Edelen (D) released a report calling for increased transparency in the districts, which control $2.7 billion statewide.

Sanders said she is willing to work with Keeney and the library, under certain conditions.

"We'd be willing to drop the petition if they revamp the board and save money on bonding debt by recalling the bonds," she said.

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