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story.lead_photo.caption Daniel Boone Regional Library Director Margaret Conroy poses for a picture. Two public forums will be hosted at Callaway County and Holts Summit public libraries to share information on Proposition L, an operating levy increase set to appear on the April 7 ballot.

The newest book by the ever-popular James Patterson costs $28 in hardback — but you can borrow it for free at the library.

Under the proposed operating levy increase appearing on the April 7 ballot, the median Callaway County family would pay $17.06 more on their property tax bill next year.

And that money buys a lot more than a new book, Daniel Boone Regional Library Executive Director Margaret Conroy said.

"I personally think libraries are the most efficient use of your tax dollars," she said during a forum about Proposition L on Wednesday evening at the Callaway County Public Library. "We provide what you need, what your neighbor needs and what your child needs to the best ability we can. We believe in the ability for Americans to educate themselves."

Proposition L proposes increasing the library's operating levy from 20 cents per $100 of assessed valuation to 26 cents per $100.

Callaway County's two libraries and the mobile library are supported through property taxes, which provide 96 percent of the libraries' funding. State allocations, grants and private donations cover the remaining 4 percent. Voters set the tax at 10 cents per $100 of assessed valuation in 1910 and increased the levy to 20 cents per $100 in 1967. They also reestablished it at 20 cents in 1999 after the Hancock Amendment rolled it back to 14 cents.

It's stayed the same ever since, even as Callaway County's population has grown and the DBRL has added services and opened its Holts Summit location. Voters have rejected three attempts to increase the levy since 1967. By contrast, in Boone County, the library operating levy ceiling was increased to 32 cents in 1999.

"We're serving more people and the dollars aren't stretching as far as they used to, and that's just the bottom line," Conroy said.

As Conroy pointed out, CCPL provides many more services in 2020 than it did in 1967.

"In 1967, people came to the library to read print books," she said. "Now, people still want to read that bestseller and we still buy multiple copies of each James Patterson in print, but we also have to buy e-books — which, counterintuitively, count more than a print book — CD audiobooks and downloadable audiobooks."

The library also provides access to a number of online databases — from Consumer Reports to Heritage Quest — and lends out a wide variety of non-book items, including telescopes, robots that teach children how to program and even Wi-Fi hotspots.

DBRL estimates the levy increase would bring in up to $540,000 more per year. For more details about the levy, see this Fulton Sun article: bit.ly/37B4q7m.

During Wednesday's meeting, which was attended by around 10 people and watched by others via Facebook livestream, Conroy went into more detail about what DBRL can do with that money. Conroy said it'll benefit people in Fulton, Holts Summit and out in the county.

Fulton's library was built in 1912, and in 2018 alone DBRL put $200,000 toward its upkeep.

"I've had it said to my face, don't you ever move out of that building," Conroy said. "But every dollar we put toward the building is fewer dollars we can put toward material and programming."

To afford building maintenance at the current tax levy, CCPL has had to cut back on evening hours and staffing. If Proposition L increases, CCPL will be able to hire two more full-time staffers, upgrade technology, perform necessary maintenance and — if demand is high enough — stay open later.

Proposition L's benefits will reach taxpayers outside municipal areas, too.

"We're putting a big emphasis on outreach," Conroy said. "We want to make sure everybody in the county has access to books."

That extra $540,000 will allow the library to add another rural stop on the bookmobile route. It'll also pay for an upgraded outreach van to bring books to people who are homebound or live in nursing homes or the Fulton State Hospital.

"(This increase will allow) us to be able to enrich the services we provide and enrich all areas of the county," said Mary Fennel, a member of the DBRL board of trustees and a newly formed committee dedicated to promoting Proposition L.

But perhaps the biggest impact, whether Proposition L passes or fails, will be seen in Holts Summit.

Until the end of 2020, DBRL doesn't have to pay rent on the Holts Summit Public Library building. But after 2020 draws to a close, they'll have to spend $60,000 per year just to keep the building. With Prop L, DBRL can afford that and will even be able to expand hours at the library from 20 to 55, hiring three new staffers in the process. Without Prop L, that means either siphoning resources and staff away from CCPL, or closing the HSPL altogether, Conroy said.

That would be a tragedy, said Marty Wilson, a Holts Summit businessman who played a big role in bringing a library to Holts Summit (bit.ly/38Knnpr).

"The library being in Holts Summit has paid off in economic development already," he said. "The plaza where it's located was 60 percent empty for 15 years, and now it's full. The library has only been there since March."

Conroy said the library has also proved popular with young families in Holts Summit — 50-60 children attend each family friendly event the library hosts.

Audience members at Wednesday's forum seemed supportive.

"Seventeen dollars is not that much for the year to invest in the library," said Doc Kritzer, who was in the audience Wednesday.

A second forum will take place at 5:30 p.m. March 3 at the Holts Summit Public Library. The forum will be livestreamed on Facebook. Those wishing to join the citizen committee supporting Proposition L may attend Saturday's meeting of the group, 10 a.m. at the Callaway County Public Library.

More information about Proposition L is available at dbrl.org/library-levy.

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