- Associated Press - Friday, March 20, 2015

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - A ruling by the state Court of Appeals has rescued most Kentucky public libraries from a 60 percent budget cut that would have forced some to close and others to scale back services including Internet access and literacy programs.

But it allows libraries to raise property taxes up to 4 percent each year without first getting approval from voters, a decision challenged by a group of northern Kentucky taxpayers who were seeking a refund on more than 30 years of tax bills.

A panel of judges from the Kentucky Court of Appeals ruled 3-0 to overturn a lower court ruling from 2013 that said any tax increase by some public libraries since 1978 was illegal unless voters approved the hike in a referendum. That decision would have reset the tax rates of about 80 public libraries across the state to 1978 levels, removing more than half of their current funding. The decision only affects libraries that were created by petition, a process that was eliminated in 1984.

The three judges - Christopher Nickell, Jeff Taylor and Kelly Thompson - acknowledged that two state laws contradicted each other by requiring voters to approve tax increases while giving some taxing districts the authority to raise taxes up to 4 percent without asking permission. But they said the laws were easily reconciled and added that “common sense” called for the lower court ruling to be reversed.

“Eighty library districts across Kentucky … would be adversely affected if the decisions of the Campbell and Kenton Circuit Courts were to stand,” the judges wrote. “For over thirty years, without protest or challenge, the library districts created by petition have acted in good faith and conducted their affairs in accordance with the directions of the Executive Branch, which was charged by law to implement the applicable statutes in question.”

American Library Association President Courtney Young and Public Library Association President Larry Neal praised the court for reversing a ruling they said would have blocked library access to roughly 83 percent of Kentucky residents.

“Kentuckians checked out more than 30 million items from the state’s 119 public library systems. This is the highest usage rate ever recorded and is a 2 percent increase from the previous year,” Young and Neal said in a news release. “Libraries are vital to democracy in the great state of Kentucky and everywhere.”

Friday’s ruling might not be the final say in the matter. The northern Kentucky taxpayers could appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court. Their attorney, Brandon Voelker, was not available for comment.

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