A time to tax?

Time to talk about raising taxes. But don't worry, it's for a good cause.

I know, I know: That's what they all say. But this time, it's true.

The Henderson Library District is asking for a property tax increase of 2 cents per $100 of assessed value in order to avoid closing branches. The increase works out to between $7 and $10 per year for the average home.

That's between $7 and $10 per year, as in not even 3 cents per day. In other words, it's cheap.

But what you get in return is valuable.

The district has struggled in recent years as property tax receipts have fallen. Without the tax increase, district officials will be forced to close at least two - and maybe three - library branches.

I live in Henderson, and I'll be voting for the tax. Won't you fellow Henderson residents join me?

Ah, but first let's deal with some of the objections that are sure to arise, many of which are not at all unreasonable.

Some will ask: Shouldn't the Henderson Library District have to tighten its belt, just as we all have thanks to the bad economy?

Answer: Absolutely it should. And it has.

The district has lost 32 employees through natural attrition, positions that have not been re-filled. The staff of 135 people - at its peak - wasn't that large to begin with. In 2008 and 2009, the district stopped offering cost-of-living increases and merit pay, and in 2010, everybody - including Director Tom Fay - took a 10 percent pay cut. While employees of many other public agencies argue over preserving pay increases and other benefits, members of the Henderson Library District's staff have gone about doing their jobs quietly with less.

Also in 2008 and 2009, the district closed libraries on Sundays and curtailed hours in order to save money. In fact, I get the impression that if Fay could have figured out a way to make further cuts without having to close a branch of the system, he'd have done it in a heartbeat rather than ask voters for more money.

On a recent morning, he showed up at the Review-Journal's editorial board, sans entourage. His only pitch material: An 8½x11 sheet of paper (with black-and-white text on front and back) outlining the numbers.

And those numbers aren't good. The district has seen its revenue fall 30 percent in the recession, and it's not like it was living large before that. The last increase in the library's tax rates came in 1991. The city's population has quadrupled since.

Other critics will say their taxes shouldn't be raised so that library employees can get paid more. And they won't be - the proposal specifically says that none of the money generated can go to salaries or benefits for employees, or for hiring new people.

Finally, some will say that in an age of e-books, the Internet and Netflix, we don't need libraries anymore. But Fay points out that library use - especially of computers - is up significantly since the recession hit as more people turn to free services to make it through the crisis.

In addition, libraries are social gathering places with programs for everybody from kids to senior citizens, and that's something you can't reproduce in a virtual world.

Oh, did I mention that the Henderson district's property taxes are the lowest in the valley now? And that even with the increase, they will still be lower than library taxes in Boulder City and the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District?

The Henderson libraries have done their part - with good management and sacrifice - to deal with the recession and keep the doors open. Now, they're asking the community to step up and do its part.

I'll be voting yes on the library tax in November. I hope my fellow Henderson residents join me.


Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist and author of the blog SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at (702) 387-5276 or ssebelius@reviewjournal.com.