INDIANAPOLIS — The debate over whether public libraries should be required to obtain budget and property tax levy approval from a local, elected governing council was renewed Thursday after a compromise between lawmakers and librarians fell apart.

Melissa Merida, of the Indiana Library Federation, told the Senate Local Government Committee that House Bill 1343 should be defeated, because the federation does not trust that the revised proposal the federation helped craft over the past two weeks will remain intact as it continues through the legislative process.

The surprise opposition followed state Sen. Andy Zay, R-Huntington, the sponsor of the measure, declining to commit that the House sponsor, state Rep. Dan Leonard, R-Huntington, will not delete the agreed provisions from the proposal if it passes the Senate and returns to the House. 

That prompted state Sen. Jim Buck, R-Kokomo, the committee chairman, to urge both sides to bookmark their battle, allow the amended legislation to advance to the full Senate and see what happens from there.

The committee voted 5-4 to approve the legislation.

"We'll give them a chance to work some more. But I think right now this is a good faith effort on all parts," Buck said. "Neither side seems to really be thrilled by it; maybe that's going to make for a good bill."

Originally, the proposal would have allowed a municipal, township or county council to require a local library to annually submit its tax levy and budget for binding review and approval, similar to all other taxing entities led by non-elected governing boards.

The amended version only makes libraries with a 10 percent year-over-year budget or tax levy increase, or libraries whose reserves top 200 percent of annual spending, eligible for the review and approval process.

"The point is to not have unencumbered monies standing in huge reserves in these library accounts, and if they are, to bring them to the table and discuss why those are necessary," Zay said.

"In this advent of tax caps, we have cities, counties, schools all eating from the same pie, if you will. This is the only organization in a given fiscal area that does not have binding review from the taxpaying public."

"I do not believe that this legislation will affect the broader library community. I think it will affect a limited number of libraries, and I think it's honestly good policy to bring everybody to the table that is participating in that property tax pie."

Merida said the federation agrees that libraries should have capital improvement plans if they are building reserves, and they should communicate what those reserves are for.

But she insisted that current law already provides for public input, review and reporting of library finances, and empowering another local government to perhaps redirect library funds to their own spending plans is not in the best interest of taxpayers or library patrons.

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