Forum editorial: City failed to support the library
One of the reasons Fargo voters will be voting on a short-term sales tax for the public library is that the City Commission has for years failed to adequately fund the library. The result has been deterioration of library services during a time w...
One of the reasons Fargo voters will be voting on a short-term sales tax for the public library is that the City Commission has for years failed to adequately fund the library. The result has been deterioration of library services during a time when the city's population was growing at a rate of 2 percent a year. Instead of enhancing the library to keep pace with the city's growth, the library was neglected.
A short-term half-cent sales tax would raise an estimated $12 million over the 18-month life of the tax. We are not concluding the sales tax proposal is the right way to go. There are a lot of unanswered questions about how the proceeds of the tax would be spent. Would the money be used to fix up the old downtown library? How much would be needed for a full-blown library in south Fargo? Is there a suitable site downtown for a new library? How will technology affect the design of and need for new library buildings?
As the debate unfolds between now and the November election, we expect those questions and others to be addressed by proponents of the sales tax.
But the larger, more basic question goes to the heart of why library supporters believe they need a special tax. The city budget process has shorted the library to such a degree that the library is an embarrassment to a city that rightfully prides itself on the mostly excellent services it provides its citizens. A public library should be considered a basic service, like fire protection and street maintenance, not an afterthought to be funded by extraordinary means.
The mayor and his allies on the City Commission have been reluctant to raise property taxes. That's one reason cited for being stingy with library funding.
Indeed, the city mill levy has not gone up for many years. But the levy is only one aspect of property taxes. The city's nonstop re-evaluation of residences and businesses has resulted in higher property taxes, even as the mill levy remained stagnant. So the claim that the city has not raised taxes is a tad disingenuous. Just compare this year's city tax bite to previous years.
The ideal situation would have been for the city to have allocated enough money for the library to keep pace with the city's growth. That was not done, and now citizens will be asked to approve a special sales tax. That's not the way a progressive city like Fargo should fund essential services. And in today's world, a modern public library is an essential service.
Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper's Editorial Board