HAMMOND | Although tempers flared and fingers were pointed, a standing-room-only crowd of concerned residents and some public officials agreed Tuesday to work together to save the Hammond Public Library.
The meeting in the library’s community room introduced an advocacy action plan to help the Library Board gain access to $800,000 already collected from property taxes and prevent any state legislation forcing the Lake County Public Library to take over the Hammond library. Residents were asked to sign up for one of three subcommittees on finance, community support and legislation.
One problem is a new state law that went into effect in June requires a municipal library board to get the approval of the City Council before it can acquire and use tax dollars that go beyond its initial budget, said Paul Taylor, president of the Hammond Library Board.
In September, the Library Board asked the Hammond City Council to grant an additional appropriations measure to give it access to $800,000 in property taxes already collected and in the bank. The council voted “no."
Tax caps and circuit breakers that the General Assembly put in place because Lake County didn’t pass a local income tax have sliced into the budgets of all taxing units in the county, including the Hammond Public Library, Taylor said. That has limited the library’s budget to $2.8 million, although $3.6 million was collected from Hammond property owners.
A number of residents spoke at the meeting, blaming the City Council for voting down the additional appropriations without understanding what was being asked.
“Hammond doesn’t have a job. The citizens of Hammond have a job,” said Derek “Ricky” Durr. “This meeting is about us paying our taxes. Allow them to use that money.”
Hammond resident Pat Deering, president of the AFSME Local 1448 that represents library employees, said, “Look at your tax bill. Twenty-two cents of every $100 goes to the library, but the library can’t access it. We weren’t asking for a raise in taxes. I want to know where my money is.”
Hammond City Councilman Anthony Higgs spoke at length about the City Council’s decision and how he is inspired to now support that additional appropriations request. He promised Taylor that he would bring the matter up again before the City Council for a vote.