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Library gets $250,000 for remodeling

As the saying goes, half a loaf is better than nothing. And that’s just what the Harrison County Public Library got Monday night, when the county council approved half of the $500,000 the library had requested to renovate the north half of the old bank building at Chestnut Street and Capitol Avenue in Corydon.
Councilman Kenneth Saulman’s motion to approve $250,000 in riverboat revenue for the library, seconded by Ralph Sherman, passed the seven-member board unanimously. Immediately, Councilman Carl (Buck) Mathes tried one more time to raise the rest of the $500,000. His motion, seconded by Councilman Carl Duley, failed 2-4.
Why the defeat? The majority of the council believes it’s time for the library to stand on its own two feet, to be accountable to the taxpayers. The library, the council reasoned, can raise the money it needs through property taxes, while others seeking riverboat revenue have little or no other recourse.
“Why should we use $500,000 to support the library when the library could raise its own funds, and we could use the $500,000 for someone else?” argued chair Gary Davis.
“The council has supported the establishment of a county-wide library with operating expenses from the time it was a township library until it could raise funds as a county library.”
That, said Davis, was the council’s commitment.
But J. Frederick Royse, the only member of the library board who could attend Monday night’s meeting, said the library board believed it had the go-ahead from the council to purchase the remaining portion of the bank building, if it became available from Union Planters Bank. The south end of the building had already been donated and renovated, so the library board used $500,000 intended for an extensive expansion of the old Carnegie library on Beaver Street to buy the bank building instead.
“Some council members even remarked that if we could get the rest of the bank building, we should do so,” Royse said. “We were told, we had a gentlemen’s-type agreement.
“We had a plan — it was a ‘go’ — to take us through 2002.”
Royse reasoned that if the library received the $500,000, its tax rate would remain relatively stable. If not, the tax rate would go up.
“In this marketplace, tax increases and tax increases to the public are not a very popular thing. Everybody, from the president down, is talking about cutting taxes.
“If we get the boat money, we won’t have to raise the tax levy.”
Had the library board known the council would withhold the riverboat revenue, Royse said, the bank building would not have been purchased. “We thought everybody was singing out of the same book,” he said. “We wouldn’t have bought the building if we had thought otherwise.”
Saulman countered that every unit of government, every entity seeking riverboat revenue, “wants it all — at once,” when they could move more slowly. Taking the project to the public, in the form of taxes, would answer whether everything should be done in a “reasonable time or overnight.”
Councilwoman Rhonda Rhoads, noting that she is a relative newcomer on the council but had researched the council’s initial library funding, said she is concerned that the library has no plan other than taxation if it didn’t get the riverboat revenue.
“My concern is, ‘OK, you don’t give us the money; we will hold the taxpayer hostage.’
“I’m sure there are ways that you can do the same thing you want over two or three years — and your tax increase wouldn’t be as much,” Rhoads said. “There are alternatives rather than nothing or all?”
Royse said he doesn’t believe renovation of the bank building could take part in stages.
Duley argued that the council is sending a mixed message by not approving the riverboat revenue. “The council is trying to lower property taxes (through paying school debt levies); on the other hand, we’re telling you guys to raise it.”
If the funding were approved, Duley said he would want assurance that taxes would not be raised.
Royse said he did not know the answer. Mathes said the council was told earlier the tax increase would be minimal.
Any rate increase imposed by the library would be minimal either way, probably pennies, whereas the council’s plan to make payments on the school debts would cut the rate by $1.25 per $100 in assessed valuation, Davis pointed out at an earlier meeting.
Lobbying for his motion to approve the remaining $250,000, Mathes said, “I think it’s a worthwhile project, a county-wide project.
“I don’t know of any better way we can use riverboat money to get it back to the people.”
After that motion failed, Royse said he does not know what the library board’s next step will be, but the issue will be discussed at the board’s next meeting, Oct. 18 at 7 p.m. at the library. This is the library’s second trip before the council to ask for the money.
In other matters Monday night, the council:
— Unanimously approved $100,000 in riverboat revenue to help restore existing warning sirens and add new ones to cover a large part of Harrison County, especially in rural school zones. The issue has been discussed extensively at earlier meetings, so the council had no other questions Monday night.
— Approved a loan of $254,000 to the economic development arm of the Chamber of Commerce of Harrison County to help construct a road past 107 acres the Chamber owns in north Corydon, along the south side of Interstate 64. The road will connect the area that’s being developed next to the Wal-Mart Supercenter and Cracker Barrel with the Corydon-Ramsey Road, parallel to I-64. The funds will be repaid when the Chamber sells the property. Mathes voted against the measure, without comment.
— Approved riverboat revenue-sharing funds for Crawford ($74,345), Washington ($18,586) and Floyd ($9,293) counties plus New Albany ($27,879), Georgetown ($15,322), and the 10 incorporated towns in Harrison County.
Each of the towns will receive $2,788. However, Palmyra was inadvertently omitted from the advertised list, so that appropriation will be delayed so it can be properly advertised. The 10 towns will also receive a two percent share each, based on population, of riverboat revenue received for infrastructure improvements.
As of this month, Harrison County has received $51.5 million in riverboat revenue for admissions and taxes on gross income. Interest on investments brings the amount to $52.4 million. A complete breakdown on spending and balances is available at the Harrison County Auditor’s office.