Lawrence Public Library plans $753,000 revenue increase to help fund staff raises; increase could require property tax hike | News, Sports, Jobs

photo by: Kim Callahan/Journal-World

Children’s Librarian Linda Clay assists Alan Holland, 5, Friday, May 27, 2022, at the Lawrence Public Library.

The Lawrence Public Library board has approved a $753,000 revenue increase for next year to fund staff raises and other expenses, which could potentially result in a property tax increase for Lawrence residents.

The library board voted to approve the additional $753,000 in funding, which is equal to a 15% increase, rather than a specific increase to the library’s property tax rate, meaning that increases in city property values could offset a significant portion of the increase. The library board voted on the budget submission in April, ahead of its May 1 deadline to make the submission to the city. The city is projecting a 10% to 12% increase in its property tax base — final amounts won’t be known until mid-June — and should the valuation increase come in below 15%, a corresponding property tax rate increase would be required to fulfill the library’s budget submission.

Library Executive Director Brad Allen said that the library’s employees were underpaid compared with city employees and that the extra funding would help pay for a 17% to 21% pay increase for most of the library’s 85 staff members. It will also help pay for the reinstatement of a marketing position at the library. Allen said the pay increases aimed to address long-standing pay inequities between library and city staff and to ensure that staff members were paid a living wage.

photo by: Kim Callahan/Journal-World

Info Services Assistant Ruby Mackinnon-Love works the Ask desk Friday, May 27, 2022, at the Lawrence Public Library.

“To me it really comes down to, what do we believe?” Allen said. “When we talk about government and paying people what they should be paid to live their lives, what does that look like?”

Allen said the $753,000 increase was arrived at following a recent compensation study, completed by McGrath Human Resources Group, to determine how much more library staff would need to be paid to bring their pay rates in line with city staff of similar responsibility level, and also looked at compensation at other libraries in Kansas. The library began discussing a review of its wages and the potential need for a tax increase last year, but did not end up submitting one at that time, as the Journal-World reported. Allen said although the library planned to increase its revenue collections regardless of the change in property valuation, the expected increase could mean the required property tax rate increase could be small or potentially none at all.

Staff pay increases

According to the library’s budget submission, $654,000 of the additional revenue will go toward employee pay, consisting of $550,000 for salaries and wages and $104,000 for payroll taxes. Allen said another $50,000 to $55,000 would fund the marketing position, and the submission indicates remaining amounts will go toward other library expenses, such as technology and books and materials.

When it came to trying to align library pay with city employee pay, Allen said McGrath used a system of points that considered factors such as work conditions and stress of the job. That information was then used to determine comparable positions and pay at the city. The library’s newly proposed pay scale, in addition to including the pay increases for each pay grade, now also has nine steps, or regular pay increases, based on years of service.

For example, McGrath determined that the library’s entry-level job, a library assistant, should have pay comparable to such city positions as an administrative technician, an animal control officer, a park facility maintenance technician or a solid waste loader. Allen said the library assistant position doesn’t require a college degree, though a degree is preferred. Currently, library assistants make a minimum of $15.18 per hour, or $31,574 per year, following an increase this year. Under the library’s new pay plan, library assistants would make a minimum of $18.89 per hour, or $39,284 per year.

Allen said the new plan was built to help those at the lowest pay grades, and the library intentionally wanted to set its minimum pay above a living wage.

“I’m just done paying people less than 15 bucks an hour,” Allen said. “I just don’t think it’s right. When you talk about a living wage, to me that’s the bare living wage, and we want to do a little bit better than that.”

photo by: Lawrence Public Library

The Lawrence Public Library’s 2023 pay plan.

Pay for other positions, such as custodians and security officers, also increased. Custodian pay increased from a minimum of $15.18 per hour, or $31,574 per year, to a minimum of $16.81, or $34,966 per year. Allen said the library bumped up pay for its lowest-paying positions to $15.18 per hour this year; however, he said the library recently wasn’t able to find a custodian at that rate. The library does not currently have dedicated shelvers, as volunteers and other staff do book re-shelving, but if that position were brought back, it would be the lowest-paid position at $16.01 per hour, or $33,301 per year.

Other library positions will also see increases. For example librarians, which the study determined should have pay comparable to city positions such as a building inspector, a planner, or a customer service supervisor, will see minimum pay increase from $20.34 per hour, or $42,307 per year, to $24.68 per hour, or $51,336 per year.

Senior librarians, supervisors and managers also will see increases, as will the executive director position. The study determined the library director’s salary should have pay comparable to city positions such as the parks and recreation director and the planning and development services director. However, Allen said for his own pay grade, the library did not advance the pay scale to match the city positions. The new pay grade for the executive director position increases from a minimum pay of $87,963 per year to a minimum pay of $108,073 per year, with a maximum pay of $134,264 per year.

Library’s tax rate

The library’s property tax rate is part of the city’s overall property tax rate of about 33.3 mills. Taxes are levied on 11.5% of a home’s assessed property value, and 1 mill is equivalent to $1 for every $1,000 of that value. For commercial properties, taxes are levied on 25% of the value.

Though the precise consequence of the library’s funding increase on the tax rate won’t be known until mid-June when the city receives its assessed property valuation figures from Douglas County, estimates can be made based on the city’s projections.

photo by: Kim Callahan/Journal-World

A librarian works the help desk Friday, May 27, 2022, at the Lawrence Public Library.

The library’s current mill levy is 4.045 mills, and that generates about $5.1 million to fund the library, according city Finance Director Jeremy Willmoth. Willmoth said if the city’s total assessed valuation increases 10%, the 4.045 mills would generate approximately $462,000 in new revenue. He said to fund the $291,000 difference between that amount and the library’s request for $753,000, the library’s mill levy would have to increase to 4.277, or by 0.232 mills.

The city’s estimate of a 10% to 12% increase in assessed valuation is a reference to the entire property tax base — including all existing and new residential, commercial and other property types — and is different from the increase a homeowner will pay as a result of increases in their home’s assessed value. As the Journal-World reported in March, the median value of a home in Lawrence is now $245,100, an increase of 17.3% from a year ago.

Under the library’s current tax rate, the owner of a home valued at $200,000 pays about $93 in property tax per year toward the library. If that home’s value goes up 15%, to $230,000, then that same homeowner will pay $107 next year, or $14 more per year just due to the increased property value. If the city’s assessed valuation only goes up 10%, and the library’s mill levy rate needs to increase by 0.232 mills, then the owner of a $230,000 home will pay an additional $6.14 per year on top of that.

The library’s budget submission comes at a time when the Lawrence City Commission has recently committed to keeping the city’s property tax rate flat, and Vice Mayor Lisa Larsen expressed interest in potentially decreasing the rate. Larsen cited the city’s increasing property tax base and financial pressures on community members as the reason for the commission to consider a decrease. If the library’s revenue increase ends up requiring a property tax rate increase, then the commission will have to make cuts elsewhere in the budget to keep the rate flat.

Allen said he saw the amount Lawrence residents pay toward the library as a good value, and while he recognized the commission’s stated interested in keeping the property tax rate flat, he said the potential property tax rate increase is about making sure library staff are paid fairly in comparison to city employees. He noted that library has not increased its mill levy rate since 2016, which also helped fund staff raises.

“That’s important to me,” Allen said. “I hope that it is not misconstrued that both me and our board take tax stewardship incredibly seriously. I cannot continue to operate this library, (and have) our budget be based on exploiting our staff labor.”

At the time of the 2016 increase, there was debate about whether the city’s charter ordinance regarding the library gives the City Commission the authority to set the library’s mill levy at a rate different from what the library board decided, so long as the rate stayed below 4.5 mills. City legal staff did not immediately respond to an inquiry regarding the city’s current position on that topic. Allen said the ordinance gives the library board the authority to assess up to 4.5 mills.

photo by: Kim Callahan/Journal-World

The Lawrence Public Library, 707 Vermont St., is pictured Friday, May 27, 2022.