March 4, 2009
Re: Municipal Library Contribution Relief
Legislators appreciate the incredibly tight fiscal restraints that we face this year. The problem of mandatory municipal library funding levels has been recognized. At this time, there are two approaches embodied in bills that would give us some relief.
In response to a resolution passed at our last Conference, Assemblyman Vincent Prieto has introduced A-3753, which reduces the mandatory tax levy for free public libraries from one-third to one-sixth of a mill per dollar of assessable property.
Current law requires municipalities with a free public library to raise and appropriate one-third of a mill per each dollar of assessed property value for the library. The level of appropriations for municipalities with a joint library is the same amount under current law. In both cases, this amount would be adjusted to one-sixth of a mill on each dollar of assessed property value.
R.S.40:54-8, pertaining to municipal libraries, was first enacted in 1937, and has not been amended since 1985. Similarly, N.J.S.A. 40:54-29.4, dealing with joint municipal libraries, although enacted later, has not been amended since 1988.
The equalized value of property throughout the State has risen substantially in recent years. Because these statutes have not been amended to change the proportional obligation of each municipality to fund its public library, many municipalities are collecting monies in excess of the needs of their public library systems.
Another approach to the problem is taken in A-1139. Under the bi-partisan co-sponsorship of Assembly Members David Russo, Linda Greenstein, Joseph Vas and Gordon Johnson, A-1139 removes appropriations for municipal library purposes from the four percent municipal property tax levy cap.
This bill is intended to remove amounts required to be appropriated for library purposes from the municipal cap on increases to the property tax levy, recently enacted by P.L.2007, c.62. Prior to that law, expenditures for library purposes were exempted from the cap on municipal expenditures (N.J.S.A.40A:4-45.3). P.L.2007, c.62 did not extend the library cap exception to the cap on increases to the municipal property tax levy, and so, increases in library funding that result merely from operation of N.J.S.A.40:54-8 use up part of the municipality's permissible four percent annual property tax levy increase.
As a result of this, when the market causes the equalized assessed valuation of property in a municipality to increase, funding for the municipal free library also increases automatically under the statutory formula in N.J.S.A.40:54-8, with that funding increase being charged against the municipality's permissible annual four percent property tax levy increase.
There are 233 municipalities with municipal free libraries and another 12 municipalities with joint municipal free libraries. All of these municipalities would be affected by any increase in the equalized assessed valuation of its property, as described above. This bill is intended to place these municipalities on an equal footing with municipalities that participate in a county library system funded by a separate tax levy. This bill would also ensure that those additional appropriations, required to support the municipal free library, are outside of the property tax levy cap and do not erode the use of the permissible annual four percent property tax levy increase for other purposes.
At this time, A-1139 awaits action in the Assembly Housing and Local Government Committee, where it faces the opposition of the Administration. A-3753 is in the same Committee.
Please contact your representatives in the General Assembly and urge them to support one or both of these timely initiatives. For further information, contact Jon Moran at 609-695-3481, ext. 121.
Very truly yours,
William G. Dressel, Jr.