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Other views: A short-term library tax makes sense for Fargo

The Fargo Public Library was built in the late 1960s for Fargo's population of 54,000 people. As Fargo has grown 40,000 people since then, the demand for space, services, number of volumes and expanded hours of operation has increased beyond the ...

The Fargo Public Library was built in the late 1960s for Fargo's population of 54,000 people. As Fargo has grown 40,000 people since then, the demand for space, services, number of volumes and expanded hours of operation has increased beyond the current library's design.

The city has paid for two separate studies by consultants to compare our library system to cities of similar size and economic standing and offer options and plans for expanding it to a level on par with those communities surveyed. The first was commissioned in 2000 and the last was begun in 2003 and finished in 2004.

The options and plans have been done, but the revenue source to implement them has not been determined. The proposed Fargo budget for 2005 increased the annual funding for the library to about $1.9 million. That amount only funds anticipated operational costs with minor improvements, nowhere near sufficient to fund for either of the consultants' studies' recommended upgrades.

One strategy that has been used successfully in other communities is a short-term sales tax dedicated to a library fund. Some examples of those are: http://www.fayettevillelibrary.org/information/history.asp  and http://www.champaign.org

Locally, the funding structure for the Cass County Jail is a good example. It was a four year, half-cent tax that raised $24 million. The needed jail was paid for as it was finished, no interest paid, with $6 million left over for future expansion, improvements and operational costs. And, it was retired a few months early!

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The Fargo City Commission has used their authority to put three sales tax questions on the ballot. They have all been for departments in the city budget that the city is responsible for funding, as is the library.

E 1992 the half-cent sales tax for water and street projects.

E 1996 the one-eighth-cent diversion from the Fargodome tax for four years for streets.

E 1998 for a 10-year extension of the 1992 water and street projects.

E All of those passed by well over 60 percent voter approval.

The sales tax proposal that the commission could put on the November ballot would be an 18- month, half-cent sales tax that would begin Jan. 1, and expire June 30, 2006. The 18-month tax would raise about $12 million and fully fund the consultants' recommendations for both the southside and downtown library, bringing the system up to the 75,000-square-foot area a city our size requires. Some other benefits this type of dedicated short term sales tax make available are:

E Paying cash for the improvements and buildings as they are done saves taxpayers money. There is no cost of interest from financing that bonding would incur.

E The revenue source would make the library eligible for existing and potential matching funds that their current funding mechanism doesn't provide. This would greatly enhance their fund-raising ability to supplement the library fund as a financial foundation for future needs.

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E Currently the Fargo Public Library has reciprocal agreements to share free membership services with West Fargo, Moorhead and Lake Agassiz Region. A sales tax would allow the library to achieve a goal of free membership for the entire region that its current budget can't support.

E The Internet is already an integrated component of modern libraries. A free wireless Internet access system could be installed both inside and around the library campuses for public use.

E Expanded services at our libraries will increase the number of people and make them destination points for families and people of all ages. The library membership grew by 894 people just this past July, and traffic has increased by more than 10 percent each year for the past four years.

E Provide study rooms, lounges and more classes for life-long learning opportunities.

I believe free access to life- long learning is among the most important services government can, and should, offer all people. Education is true economic development because it helps people reach our full potential, finding and developing our individual curiosity and interests. Those interests and learned skills can help give our lives more meaning and allow us to contribute more to society and lead more fulfilling lives. Besides that, it's fun!

Williams recently was elected to a term on the Fargo City Commission.

E-mail gofargo@msn.com

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