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Court decision takes pressure off libraries

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Kentucky Press News Service/The Lexington Herald-Leader

 Although it may not be the last word on the matter, many library officials around Kentucky must be feeling a bit more confident about the future of their institutions following a Friday ruling from the state Court of Appeals.

A three-judge appellate panel unanimously overturned two lower court decisions involving revenue increases for libraries created by petition.

There are about 80 such libraries in Kentucky. Since the passage of House Bill 44 in a 1979 special legislative session, they have operated according to its provisions, which allow local governments and special taxing districts to increase revenue 4 percent annually without being subject to a voter referendum.

They did not do so arbitrarily; they were following the guidance of state revenue officials.

But judges in Campbell and Kenton circuit courts sided with plaintiffs who filed suits against libraries in those counties in 2012, arguing a 1964 statute required libraries created by petition to get voter approval before raising any additional revenue.

With similar suits pending in other counties, the decisions in Northern Kentucky raised the specter of all such library districts in the state being forced to cut revenue to 1978 levels and refund millions of additional dollars they collected since then.

This would have devastated all of them and likely caused some, if not many, to close down operations that provide myriad services which improve the minds and expand the universes of people in their communities.

In overturning the lower court decisions, the Court of Appeals noted, "For over 30 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."

In other words, the provisions of HB 44 prevail over those of the 1964 statute, which only seems reasonable since HB 44 was the more recent action by the General Assembly.

This case may yet reach the state Supreme Court. If it does, we hope the court's seven justices recognize the logic and soundness of the Court of Appeals' decision. There are a lot more universes Kentucky library patrons need to explore.

- The Lexington Herald-Leader