Mechanics of the Library Tax

With voters in the City of Pittsburgh approving an additional 0.25 mill to provide dedicated funding for the Carnegie Library system in a referendum this week the logistics of moving from ballot question to handing over money from City coffers to the Carnegie system will commence forthwith.

The ballot question said that the tax would be levied "effective January 1, 2012 and thereafter" and the "plain English" explanation stated "all money raised as a result of this tax can be used to aid in the maintenance and operation of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and cannot be used for any other purpose".

Four communities in Allegheny County currently have dedicated millage for their local library-Brentwood (0.5 mill out of 8.5 mills), Castle Shannon (.514 mill out of 9.4 mills), Robinson (0.1 mill of 3.05), and Wilkinsburg (0.71 mill out of 14 mills). In 2010 those communities raised anywhere from $150k to $389k for their libraries. Pittsburgh anticipates raising over $3 million annually.

How will this money be accounted for? The additional millage will presumably be tacked on to property tax bills and the money will flow back to the City’s treasury. But then what happens? Will there be a separate library fund, or will the money be counted in the general fund? A quick phone survey of the four communities with a dedicated library tax found that only one (Castle Shannon) has a separate library fund for accounting purposes. The others write a check annually or quarterly to transfer tax money from the general fund to the library. Some provide space and cover utilities for the library as well.

Given the sheer size of the City’s Carnegie system, with 19 branches and 5.2 million items, and a budget of more than $20 million with various public, corporate, and foundation sources currently, and the amount of the tax to be generated, it would be reasonable to assume that the City might create a separate library trust or fiduciary fund. The County created a Transit Support Fund once it began to receive monies from the drink and car rental taxes. Perhaps the City will use that same accounting practice.