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Brentwood Library Tax Could Have Doubled: Wouldn't Have Been Nickel Increase

The Hancock amendment had reduced the library tax over the years, which complicated the increase approved by voters in August.

Brentwood residents will pay the tax they were told they would pay when they passed Brentwood’s Proposition L on August 7.

That may seem obvious, and right, but getting there wasn't easy.

The decision was the result of heated discussions at the Ways and Means Committee meeting Tuesday and a quickly-called library board meeting Wednesday.

At issue, was the definition of the rate residents are currently paying.

They are paying approximately 15 cents per $100 of valuation, but it could have been more.

That’s because the same year Brentwood voters last approved a library tax levy, 1984, the Hancock Amendment went into effect, which rolled back taxes. So while voters approved a 25-cent rate, they never actually paid it.

So in August, voters didn’t vote on a nickel increase from their current rate of 15 cents to 20 cents. They voted on, and approved, a nickel increase from 25 cents to 30 cents–that is what was asked in the proposal.

Effectively, as a result of the vote, the rate would go from 15 to 30 cents.

Ways and Means committee member Andy Leahy didn’t like it, and he let library director Vicki Woods, who was at the meeting, know.

“My problem is that my tax last year was $72 for the library,” he said “By approving this rate, I will look at $140. Do you understand that people won’t see that as a nickel increase?”

Woods said the way the ballot was written wasn’t false.

“We weren’t deceiving anybody,” she said. “If you were being charged the 25 cents that voters approved in 1984, it would have been a nickel increase.”

Woods said the library board sets the rate, not the Ways and Means Committee.

“The library board district is its own separate entity,” she said. “Let me put it this way: the city of Brentwood could go away and the library would still exist.”

On Wednesday, the library board called a special meeting to discuss the rate.

They wrestled with what they could do legally, which the voters approved, and under the circumstances, what they perceived might be the right thing to do.

Board member Brian Rothery said they had devoted a considerable amount of discussion to the net effect of a 5-cent increase on the tax.

“The reality is, it is complicated stuff,” he said in the meeting. “We were trying to calculate Hancock, and what would happen.”

He said when they came up with the $19 per $200,000 home, they truly believed that would be the net increase of the tax, and he said those numbers were published in campaign literature.

“While we do have it in our legal right to seek more, I do think it is the right thing to do, to vote in favor of what would resemble what we presented in our written materials,” he said.

The board could have legally voted to increase the rate from 15 to 30 cents, but they didn’t.

They voted unanimously to effectively increase the rate from 15 to 20 cents, which is truly a nickel increase for residents.

Alderwoman Maureen Saunders is on the Ways and Means Committee, and also went to the library board meeting.  She was happy with the outcome.

“I am so proud of our library board and its staff,” she said after the meeting. “The library board agreed to only increase the library tax rate by a nickel even when they found out at the last minute that they could actually increase the rate by 15 cents to the 30-cent ceiling. They honored what they told the public and are a wonderful example of good governance.”

Bob Earthal September 07, 2012 at 04:59 PM
While the Library Board may have done "the right thing" at this time, the opportunity and temptation to do the "wrong thing" remains. The City of Brentwood has proven that it cannot be trusted to do the "right thing" when money is involved. I spoke with Ms. Woods about the library tax to better understand the issue before the vote. While sympathetic to her plight, I could not support raising the rate of taxation based upon a belief that it really wouldn't be as much as it appears. And while the ballot language may have been true, justifying these increases with a plea of "haven't had a rate increase since 19xx..." is a problem. I believe the intent is to hope the tax-payers will overlook the double hit we take when one entity wants to raise the tax rate on our properties, while a second entity aggressively increases the assessed valuations on these same properties. Bob Earthal Pine Avenue
Julie Pozzo September 08, 2012 at 01:46 AM
Although, Maureen Saunders commends the Library Board for doing the right thing, I was at both meetings and I can assure you both meetings were contentious to say the least. I watched Maureen endure one vicious attack after another at both meetings for simply asking questions and explaining why the library needed to honor their promise to increase the rate by a nickel and go with the 20 cent tax rate. The disrespect and unprofessionalism shown at both these meetings was astounding. The city and our Mayor met with Vicki Woods, Library Director, and suggested the Library take the full 30 cents or 15 cents more of the taxpayer’s money, not a nickel as promised. When I asked, Vicki stated she never met with the Mayor or our city administrator and finance officer. The mayor now claims he wanted the library board to go with the 20 cent tax rate. Once again, more contradicting messages and pandering to the public after their deceptive ways were uncovered. Also, the statement made by Vicki Woods that if the city went away, the library would still exist is incorrect. Yes, the Library has its’ own fund, but they are not a separate taxing district from the city. The city collects the tax for the library and then puts it in the Library’s fund. The Mayor appoints members to the library board and the Board of Aldermen must approve them.
Julie Pozzo September 08, 2012 at 01:46 AM
On a personal note, I've lost respect for many at those two meetings. In my opinion Maureen is owed an apology. After seeing their performance, I would never vote for another tax increase for that board.
Geoff Peterson September 08, 2012 at 04:03 AM
"Also, the statement made by Vicki Woods that if the city went away, the library would still exist is incorrect. Yes, the Library has its’ own fund, but they are not a separate taxing district from the city." See http://ago.mo.gov/opinions/1972/20-72.htm for the Summary Conclusion on this issue from the Missouri Attorney General in 1972.
Mr. Completely September 08, 2012 at 01:16 PM
Here's the real issue in Brentwood; anyone who has been paying attention for the past 12 months has lost confidence and trust in their elected officials. Look at all of the financial issues that have been uncovered and how city hall has dealt with them. If you have any question who city hall represents look at the theft of municipal funds by the former city manager Seemayer and how your aldermen and mayor handled that. Seemayer is arrested for felony theft of Brentwood funds. He is ALLOWED to collect a cash payment from Brentwood for unused vacation & sick days that just happened to equal the amount of the restitution he owed Brentwood for the theft. Then the mayor and several aldermen write “personal” letters of recommendation to the court asking for a sentence of probation, not jail time. The Mayor claims he was asked by the prosecutor to send in the letter, HA! How often have you heard of that happening? Do you think they'd write a letter like that for you or Maureen Saunders? So forget the most recent example of smoke & mirrors with the Library Tax. Look at how these people covered for Seemayer, now make up your mind about who they represent. I’d submit they represent themselves and thanks to their behavior they have made your town a spectacle like the Northeast Fire Board, Kinlock, Valley Park, Uplands Park.
Mr. Completely September 08, 2012 at 02:03 PM
Brentwood needs a new city motto. This City of Warmth stuff is a farce and outdated. It only applies to about 60 people anyway and they already know the temperature here. Here’s my suggestion: Brentwood; red light camera tickets for residents, probation for felons. Please indicate your approval or not by comment here.
Thomas Gibson September 08, 2012 at 02:54 PM
Sounds right to me. But I would suggest city of corruption.
Mrs Disgusted Taxpayer September 08, 2012 at 02:56 PM
I completely agree with Mr Completely! By the way, I don't know which crony designed the Welcome-To-Brentwood fountain debacle but it is poorly designed from an aesthetic perspective. Is there any recall activity going on? Shouldn't there be? Where do I sign the petition?
Mrs Disgusted Taxpayer September 08, 2012 at 03:02 PM
Thomas Gibson is correct and how sad that such a little municipality should be plagued with a reputation for corruption instead of the cozy and warm vibe the city administration purports in their stated motto. Thank goodness Maureen functions as our (only) watchdog.
Geoff Peterson September 08, 2012 at 04:52 PM
To stay on topic, from the link above here’s State Attorney General John Danforth in 1972 on the relationships between library boards and city governments: “It is the opinion of this office that the governing boards of county, city-county and municipal libraries are vested with the administrative authority of such libraries and are not under the direction of the officers or governing bodies of such cities or counties.” So the state's top attorney states the Brentwood Library is separate from Brentwood City, as are their taxes, and Proposition L is solely the responsibility of the Library Board, and the City has nothing to do with it. So I’m confused: why was the Library involved in the Ways and Means meeting? Were they on the agenda? If so, why? As for “smoke and mirrors”: in July I found a pamphlet on Proposition L at the Library's Circulation Desk. It provided the exact wording of the ballot, along with lots of additional information about the proposed increase. The additional info helped me decide about Proposition L, so where’s the intended deceit? There was a lot of information made available to the voters. Also, the contents of the pamphlet on the Library’s website here: http://brentwood.lib.mo.us/node/1645
Thomas Gibson September 08, 2012 at 05:15 PM
Yes, I am the first to admit we have problems. But and here is the big one, I do not want to live anywhere else. I like the people, the buisnesses and my house. our government has problems, sure. But we can take core of that at the next elections. Fire them all I say, but legally. We do not want to be like them, do we?
Thomas Gibson September 08, 2012 at 05:17 PM
Plus, I am all for funding the library. Oh I am a sucker. Anywhere there are books is good to me!
Mr. Completely September 08, 2012 at 05:54 PM
G.P. Smoke & Mirrors in your own words: "So I’m confused: why was the Library involved in the Ways and Means meeting? Were they on the agenda? If so, why?"
Geoff Peterson September 08, 2012 at 06:13 PM
From the Brentwood City website (http://brentwoodmo.org/index.aspx?nid=4#m), "The Ways & Means Committee focuses on bills, policies and issues that directly impact City government revenues, tax collection, tax laws, and regulations affecting public utilities (gas, electricity, cable television, local and long-distance telephone services). The committee makes recommendations to the Board of Aldermen who decide upon policies." So... is the Library Board under the scope of responsibility of the Ways and Means Committee? According to the state of Missouri (the Danforth Summary Opinion), no. The Library does NOT report to the City. Why was the Library part of the 9/4 Ways & Means meeting? According to the published agenda (http://brentwoodmo.org/Files/AgendaCenter/Agendas/87/ways%20and%20means%20agenda%20090412.pdf), the Library wasn't on it originally. Hence my confusion.
Julie Pozzo September 08, 2012 at 10:45 PM
In 1984 the voters approved a 25 cent library tax, but because of the Hancock Amendment the library was only collecting 15 cents. If the library raised the tax from 25 to 30 cents (1 nickel) it would cost the tax payer an additional $19 per $200,000 (as explained in the literature). If the library raised the tax from 15 cents to 30 cents (15 cents), it would cost the taxpayer an additional $57 per $200,000. I don't believe it was the intent of the board to deceive the taxpayer. A couple of weeks ago, when the library was informed they could legally take the 15 cent increase, they had a decision to make. Take the nickel as promised to the voters, or take the 15 cents they were legally entitled to. The city and our Mayor met with Vicki Woods, Library Director, and suggested the Library take the full 30 cents which would be a 15 cent increase instead of a nickel increase as promised. The increase would have meant an additional $433,000 for the library instead of the $125,000 they said they needed.
Mr. Completely September 08, 2012 at 11:13 PM
So its seems that there was already a tax in place, (.15) previously approved by voters, that was available to the Library but not being collected, right? So what was the point of all the work and expense to get the .05 cents on the ballot?
Julie Pozzo September 09, 2012 at 01:00 AM
Good question. Did the city need the money and was this a way to put more money in the city coffers? The city has been known to move money from one fund to another.
just me September 09, 2012 at 02:12 PM
A simple question by Alderman Leahy started a discussion about the Library tax. It was not on the agenda. As pointed out here and in the meeting, the City has NO control over the Library Boards requests for tax funding. As explained in the meeting, The rate could not be increased to its original amount due to the Hancock amendment. A new rate had to be requested and you, the voters, passed it! It appears that this discussion has resulted in the Library Board deciding not to collect as large an amount as they could. Perhaps your Alderman's discussion did you some good. Your accusations. and inuendo. of impropriety by City officals in this matter is so far off base as to be ludicrous, if not liable! There is not a snake under every rock at City Hall.
Mr. Completely September 09, 2012 at 05:28 PM
There is no notice posted that the Constitution or Bill of Rights has been suspended in Brentwood so we’re all still entitled to an opinion and a voice to make that opinion heard so good luck with that “liable” claim. True, people are looking for a snake under every rock at city hall, why is that? IMO the message sent by city hall to residents is as follows: steal from the city, no problem as long as you’re part of the good ole boy network. Here’s the analogy: Where do you work? If you are a department head that allowed subordinates to illegally collect payroll for unworked overtime for decades do you think you’d be given a retirement party, pension and be fawned over by your superiors? That’s what happened in Brentwood with the firef chief when the no-show firefighter overtime gig was uncovered. This was public money! Hey let’s throw a party for the chief!!! Again, where do you work? If you got caught stealing money from your employer by using a company credit card for personal expenses and were arrested, charged with a felony and fired would your employer give you a cash settlement for unused vacation & sick days along with a pension and then write a letter to the court asking for probation? That’s what happened in Bentwood when the city manager was caught stealing with a city credit card. AGAIN, Public money! Hey, he’s a nice guy. Can he get a break? So are people wrong to assume that there are still snakes in city hall? You decide.
Geoff Peterson September 09, 2012 at 07:57 PM
Julie: if this were "a move to put more money in the state coffers" it would be illegal because the library and city are separate taxing entities and their funds must be (and remain) separate according to state law and state library law, and this stems from what Attorney General John Danforth summarized in 1972. I’m guessing that the City has never taken money from the Library fund before because the Library has historically had such a meager budget (based on how low it is now) that they would easily notice that funds were missing. But that’s just a guess that could be confirmed by a Library representative or City representative. But would pursuing that answer be worth the effort? From the sidelines (I didn’t attend either meeting but you attended both) it seems like there’s already been a lot of wasted effort: Ways and Means has no jurisdiction over the Library budget or tax rate, and yet it took up time and effort from the Ways and Means meeting. And why did the Library call an emergency board meeting other than to address what popped up from Ways and Means? I have no idea how much extra time this issue has cost the City and the Library, but it can't be negligible.
Geoff Peterson September 17, 2012 at 12:15 AM
Well, it looks like the Library's website posted the most recent meeting minutes (http://brentwood.lib.mo.us/node/1725). Not sure how to frame those minutes in context of the contradicting allegations in this thread, the Seemayer legal action article thread and the Board of Alderman and Ways and Means minutes. Anyone care to take a stab at it? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?
Julie Pozzo September 17, 2012 at 04:01 PM
The minutes posted by the library board are far from accurate, not complete, and statements taken out of context. As I stated earlier, when the library became aware they could take a 15 cent increase instead of the 5 cent increase, the temptation was great, but in the end they did what was right. At the Ways and Means Committee meeting the CITY presented the 2012 estimated tax rates and revenues. In the breakdown of the city's tax rate, the library board's residential tax rate was listed as .3080. Vicki Woods was first questioned by Alderman Leahy and then Alderwoman Saunders about the 15 cent increase. They noted that it was presented to the voters as only a 5 cent increase not a 15 cent increase. Both Aldermen were uncomfortable with this. When Alderwoman Saunders and I found out the library board was having an emergency meeting to vote on the increase, she and I decided to attend the meeting with the sole purpose to encourage the board to do the right thing by only taking the 5 cent increase as promised to the voter. If anyone believes otherwise that is their prerogative. However, I would encourage everyone to attend city meetings. They are open to the public.
Ash Morgan September 19, 2012 at 12:58 AM
Julie, that's awful that the posted minutes are so flagrantly wrong! Since the minutes are part of the official record and you were at that meeting you should fight the library board to HAVE THE MINUTES CHANGED! And since Doug Miner was at the meeting and he records everything he attends, you could ask for the audio and point out exactly where the library board screwed up in their minutes! Go get 'em!!!

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