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home : news : local   May 24, 2016

12/14/2013 6:05:00 AM
Splitsville? Peru library not ready to break away from city


John Wojciechowski of Peru checks out a DVD from Peru Public Library assistant Jodi Kunkel. City of Peru officials have renewed wishes for the public library to form its own taxing district instead of getting a portion of the city’s property tax levy.NewsTribune photo/Chris Yucus
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John Wojciechowski of Peru checks out a DVD from Peru Public Library assistant Jodi Kunkel. City of Peru officials have renewed wishes for the public library to form its own taxing district instead of getting a portion of the city’s property tax levy.

NewsTribune photo/Chris Yucus
Jeff Dankert
NewsTribune Reporter



City of Peru officials renewed their wishes for the public library to form its own taxing district instead of getting a portion of the city’s property tax levy.
Officials expressed their wishes in a recent accounts and finance committee meeting, where they revived a discussion that began in 2008-09, when the library forced the city to follow state law and fund the library’s operations with a maximum tax rate of 0.15 percent.
Echoing words in 2008 from Doug Schweickert, the city’s attorney, city officials said the library should become a “master of its own destiny.”
In November the library board discussed options for a library district, said library director Charm Ruhnke.
“The board did not indicate that they at this time were interested,” Ruhnke said.
“We just touched on what it means to become a district,” said Mike Watts, library board president.
Of the city’s recently approved property tax levy of $990,700, the library portion is $465,500, or 47 percent. But as Ruhnke points out: “It’s not a large part of their budget.”
Library funding is less than 4 percent of the city’s budget of $13.5 million. The other $12.5 million in the city’s budget predominantly comes from retail sales taxes, fees and utility billing. The city uses its property tax levy only for the library, police and firefighter pensions, garbage, playgrounds, band and Emergency Services and Disaster Agency.
The library’s revenue comes from the property tax levy, late book fees, donations and grants, Watts said.
The library is under the city’s health insurance plan and pays the city for that. But while city employees pay the city a percentage for health insurance premiums, the library does not, a rubbing point for the city regarding the library levy. But Ruhnke points out: “Library salaries are so much less than city salaries. If we had comparable salaries the property tax levy would be much higher.”
Starting wage at the library is the state minimum wage, $8.25 an hour, Ruhnke said.
The city issues payroll checks for library staff and the library reimburses the city.
“We do the upkeep on our own building. We pay our own utilities,” Ruhnke said.
For the taxpayer, it comes down to paying one property tax to one entity (the city) or two taxes to two entities (city and library). Whether it’s one or two, they would add up to roughly the same tax property owners now pay, Ruhnke said.
“Should at some point in the future the library become a library district our property tax rate would move from underneath the city to its own separate (district) but the city’s property tax rate would then decrease in the exact same manner,” she said. “So the residents of the city of Peru, their overall tax bill, aside from the assessed valuation shifting back and forth, their tax bill isn’t going to change. A little bit here and a little bit there but it’s not going to be a drastic change.”
Ruhnke has experience with library tax districts. Prior to coming to the Peru library in 2010, she was a consultant for the Lewis and Clark library system in southern Illinois, she said.
For Peru Public Library to form a tax district, the library board would need to draft and approve a resolution and the city would need to approve an ordinance. A judge would make the final ruling. Under a district, the library board members would be elected by the public. The library district boundaries would match the boundaries of the city, but like the city, could annex more property, Ruhnke said.
Public libraries in Ottawa, Oglesby and DePue are taxing districts. Is Peru next? There have been no recent formal talks between the city and library, Watts said.
“Going forward this probably will happen but a lot of libraries are doing this,” he said. “It seems that it most likely is in the future but how far in the future, that’s the question. I don’t have an opinion one way or another. There are always pros and cons both ways. I think we’re kind of early. It’s not something you just want to jump into.”

Jeff Dankert can be reached at (815) 220-6977 or perureporter@newstrib.com








Related Stories:
• Peru tax bills going up; Library 'hamstrung' city





Reader Comments

Posted: Saturday, December 14, 2013
Article comment by: JustSaying

In my opinion, the City of Peru should celebrate its' beautiful library, which is such an important center of culture, education, community out-reach, and socialization for area residents. Why do we glorify everything sports related and denigrate all things educational?

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