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Drama rules on Library Board

Updated: Aug 23, 2023

Newly appointed members reverse voter decision, reduce levy;

Group additionally rejects request to host NARCAN distribution

By Allen Edmonds

HARRISONVILLE – A chaotic Cass County Library Board meeting was off to a raucus start before it even officially began last Wednesday.

From left, Library Trustees Roger Toomey, Jessica Levsen, Tonya Long and Becky Klein. Not visible behind Toomey is Diana Larson.

During the standard annual tax levy public hearing, which normally isn’t controversial – especially during a year when assessments increase, and therefore levies decrease in order to keep taxing district revenue neutral for the coming year (a function of Missouri’s Hancock Amendment that dictates government cannot profit from assessment increases), a rookie board member decided it was the proper time to initiate an even further decrease. The motion effectively reverses a 2020 public vote, when Cass County voters by a 60 percent margin, supported increasing the levy to the system in exchange for an ongoing slate of new services.

Diana Larson of Drexel, lamenting that she also wants new porch furniture that she can’t afford, asked for the levy to be reduced, a proposal that was supported strongly by Jessica Levsen of Harrisonville. This was despite a proposed reduction from .2515 to .2420, a number supported by Library Director Dan Brower, who told the board that coupled with the assessment increase, that level of reduction would keep the library system revenue neutral for the coming year.

That wasn’t enough for the newly appointed group of board members, who now carry a 3-2 majority and includes, in addition to Larson and Levsen, newly elected chair Tonya Long.

Long, who told the audience and board that “she doesn’t believe in personal property tax,” and feels there are other ways libraries can be funded, citing “consumption tax,” a reinstitution of overdue fines and “donations” as alternatives.

She was, however, advised that any type of sales tax would have to go through the state legislature, that the last year the library collected fines, the total received was $11,000, and “we’re seeking donations all the time already,” Brower said.

Longtime board members Roger Toomey and Becky Klein resisted the proposal stringently, citing election records that showed exactly how citizens had voted in 2020 when asked how they’d like to fund the library. Klein pointed out the danger of losing employees if they couldn’t be properly compensated, and Toomey asked specifically what the three proposed to cut from the library’s budget, which will be put together in the coming weeks.

Toomey also discussed the need to have funds on hand when opportunities, such as land donations, become available in communities that need replacement of expansion of library services. He mentioned Raymore in particular, to which Long interrupted him by claiming, “we didn’t promise them anything.” Toomey also cited the recent work in Archie and Pleasant Hill as coming about due to strong financial planning.

“This is how we can get things done without having to go out for a bond every time. Would you rather your constituents have to pay interest on bonds, or would you rather we earn interest by being prepared?” Toomey asked.

The three supporters of the tax cut presented no specifics on what could be cut from the budget, but Larson did say, “well, we’re done with the bookmobile, aren’t we?”

Toomey and Klein responded with a laundry list of other projects that are desperately needed, such as an upgrade of the facility in Drexel, “and quite frankly, the building we’re in right now,” Toomey said, pointing out a flaw in the wall of the meeting room. “This building has never been up to what we had expected, and the time is going to come that we’re going to have to do something.”

Long asked for a vote on a proposal that would drop the levy to .2150, and it passed by the expected 3-2 vote.

However, there is a question whether the vote was even legal, since the public hearing was never closed and there was no levy vote on the regular meeting agenda, which is where Missouri taxing entities typically vote on such measures.

Numerous Cass County public officials shook their heads at a description of the process the board followed at the behest of its new chair, Long, but Brower said that was the process that had been followed in past years with the Library Board.

A Friday call to County Counselor Paul Campo was not returned by the end of the day Tuesday, so it is not known whether the vote was legal.

The board will be meeting for a work session on Aug. 30, two days before the Sept. 1 deadline to submit levy settings, so a special meeting could be scheduled for that evening to conduct a legal vote.

The board also rejected a proposal by the Health Department to have its facilities serve as storage and distribution points for NARCAN. The department has received the stock as part of the opioid lawsuit settlement through the state of Missouri, and is looking for public facilities that users might feel comfortable and somewhat private picking up such supplies due to the stigma that could be attached.

Libraries are also open during hours other public buildings typically aren’t, such as weekends.

Belton CARES Executive Director Sandy Clutter addressed the board in hopes of convincing members of the need for such a service.

But Long and Levsen remained steadfast in their believe that such a service would be “outside the mission” of the library and therefore not acceptable.

Klein and Toomey both indicated that the library’s mission involved “serving the public in any way we can.”

The proposal failed 3-2.

Finally, a proposal by Levsen to create a new section of the library for books with content involving sex or human development questions some parents might be hesitant to allow their children to read.

“There will be no content in the children and juvenile sections containing the following information, illustrations, or descriptions: Sex education, growth and human development, sexual intercourse, non-sexual and sexual nudity, and materials that invoke prurient thought,” her proposal said.

However, Klein and Toomey protested that they were being asked to vote on something they had only seen just prior to the meeting.

Levsen had, however, given her proposal to the Tribune and Times in Harrisonville Wednesday morning, which posted it on its website.

Long agreed that it wasn’t fair to ask the board to vote on something some members had only just seen, and hadn’t been included with the packet.

“It’s not really that complicated,” Levsen said, but agreed to withdraw the motion when it became clear that if she insisted on a vote, Long would vote against it and the motion would fail.

“I guess I don’t have any choice, so I’ll withdraw the motion,” Levsen said.

Watch the entire 2-plus hour meeting:


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