Henderson, Nevada–In Henderson Question 1, the local library system is also asking for more property taxes. Even before the recession and the depression that followed, our local library district built more new, fabulous library buildings than it could fill with books. Granted that before the recession, our community was building new residential and commercial developments as fast as we could, and we did not have vast tracts of empty commercial buildings back then, so building a new building instead of occupying an existing one seemed reasonable at the time. However, that still shows a pattern of over-building and thinking about how to operate it later, which was and still is common to various of our local government agencies.
I love libraries. My mom checks out books by the dozens. Before I moved into this house, I used to live in an apartment with antique wiring that wouldn’t support an internet connection, and I used the internet at the public library, although it was a struggle because they kept ‘upgrading’ their hardware and got rid of their old equipment that had been accessible to the visually impaired, and eventually I could no longer use anything they had. I’m thankful I now have my own internet connection and my own accessible equipment, with which I’m writing this commentary. However, I remain grateful that our community has public libraries, and I give back in my own way. I give what I have to give, but what I have to give isn’t money.
If the library needs more money than it is already getting, let it ask for donations instead of trying to squeeze more taxes out of a community with a 12% official unemployment rate and a 25% underemployment rate. The pro tax argument from the ballot question committees says it will only cost a homeowner $7 a year. That figure is based on an unrealistically low assessed home value and a ridiculous assumption that inflation will remain under 1% for the next 30 years. That figure is pure fantasy, and as such is an attempt to manipulate voters by concealing the true costs. If we approved every new tax that we are asked to approve, “only” a nickel and a dime here and “only” a nickel and a dime there would soon have us nickel and dimed until we stop caring about property taxes because we’ll be homeless.
Yes, we need public libraries. But over the past 10 years, library funding has increased 64% while population has only increased 27%. As local incomes and property values have fallen, the people of our community have tightened our belts and learned to make do. Our local governments will have to do the same.
Instead of taxing and spending, let’s make better use of what we already have. Our new libraries are designed and built as grand book palaces but are used as internet cafes. When new libraries open, they are not filled with books but with couches for wifi access. Outside of government, a for-profit internet café is a storefront operation, filling existing commercial real estate in strip malls, not a stand-alone building custom-designed with soaring, distinctive architecture. Internet cafes are often run as adjuncts to other businesses, filling the odd nook and cranny with computers or drawing customers with free wifi. Libraries should take a lesson from the private sector, and expand internet access by going to the public in many small, neighborhood storefront operations rather than centralizing access in lofty rooms designed for book shelf stacks that never get put in. That would be more convenient for the public, it would provide the most essential service that libraries provide for the poor and unemployed—online job hunting—without adding unused space, it would help the local economy by helping to relieve the high commercial vacancy rate and help revitalize abandoned shopping centers, and it would save the library district money. The library district says it might have to close one of the libraries it overbuilt if the tax isn’t passed; OK, if that’s what they have to do to stay inside their current budget, then let it cut loose of its overextension and expand into neighborhood shopping centers instead.
Remember, local budgets like the library and the school district get their money from local property taxes, and the reason that money pool is not increasing as fast as government would like is because property values tanked during the foreclosure crisis. The foreclosure crisis isn’t over yet. Someday it will be, though, and property values will rise again, and we’ll still be stuck with this tax if it’s passed. A property tax hike is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. It’s far better to solve temporary budget issues with temporary solutions, like moving a library into an existing commercial space instead of a custom-built building, until the local economy recovers.