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Hoffman: Canyon residents show they're tired of tax increases

Hoffman: Canyon residents show they're tired of tax increases

Wayne Hoffman
May 31, 2009

Supporters of a new tax for Canyon County property owners love libraries about as much as I love ice cream, and their argument in favor of creating a new library district was about as compelling and intricate as my argument for fudgy sundaes.

More than three quarters of voters objected to the library district proposal last Tuesday in a post-Memorial Day election that tends to favor tax protagonists. I can't remember the last time I saw a tax proposal fail so magnificently. This was a spanking. It seems the most measurable accounting to date of the public's mood when it comes to taxes. Taxpayers are tired of ever-increasing and sometimes specious demands for more of their money.

This year, in addition to library services, these same Canyon County taxpayers were told they needed to pay out more money for roads, schools, fire departments, substance abuse treatment and unemployment insurance. And it's only May. The aggregate tax burden is considerable.

The library district proposal was born out of a move by Notus officials to begin defunding the library that serves that community of about 450. So supporters gathered up enough petition signatures (they only needed 50) to ask voters to create a library district that would serve Notus as well as Greenleaf and Farmway Village - with a budget more than five times that of the current library. The funding level is derived from plans to assess property owners the maximum tax allowed by law - even though we're in the midst of a recession. A week before the election, supporters were still trying to figure out how they would spend the cash. Meanwhile they were trying to convey the need for a library district that includes Greenleaf, even though no one knew whether Greenleaf residents were hankering for a library.

The decision to create such a large taxing district was predicated on the erroneous notion that Idaho law mandates a minimum of 1,500 residents for each library district. The law does call for 1,500 people, but the state Commission for Libraries can grant an exemption to that requirement. Supporters of the Canyon library district did not ask for an exemption, nor did the commission encourage library district boosters to go that route.

Creating a smaller district, one that includes just Notus and perhaps some outlying areas, "limits them from providing excellent library service," said Erin McCusker, the state library consultant who worked with the district's supporters. "They could open a library with the smaller area and with the potentially smaller budget, but I don't know what kind of service they're going to be able to offer. We have libraries that are suffering now because of low budgets."

I wonder how many families and businesses are suffering now because of low budgets. And we families can't go out and raise taxes or form a "family district" in order to generate more revenue. We're stuck with what we get from our jobs, business ventures and retirement income. But McCusker and Jen Vollmer, one of the district organizers, used a reverse-recession logic to support the tax increase even as the economy worsened.

Vollmer said recession-weary people are looking for cheap entertainment, and the library is a great place to check out videos for free. McCusker said a full-service library is a good asset to have in a down economy because so many people have lost their jobs, requiring them to terminate their Internet connections that they can't afford, even though they need Internet service in order to look for work and apply for jobs.

It's a remarkable arrangement: Residents of the district can't afford Internet service and they can't afford movies, so tax them to make them pay for it anyway? And, by the way, if they don't pay their property taxes, the sheriff will come and take away their home. It's no wonder Idahoans have had enough.

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