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City of Tipton sues Moniteau County Library District

Many of the books in the Moniteau County libraries may not have examples of what the county’s library district is accused of doing.

“It is, what we would call in the courts, a case of first impression,” attorney Kent Brown said.

A lawsuit filed October 6 in Moniteau County, by Brown, lays out a tale of two library districts, one of which may be operating illegally. The suit claims voters in west Moniteau County established their portion of the library district in 1997. The area, known now as ‘District 2’ and in the lawsuit as the Western Subdistrict, comprises the school district boundaries of Tipton, Latham and Clarksburg. The ballot issue levied a 12-cent property tax for every $100 of assessed value in that area, and established a board of directors to manage the money and operation of the Price James Memorial Library in Tipton.

However, the eastern part of Moniteau County rejected the 1997 ballot proposal. It wasn’t until 2004 that voters in California approved their own library-specific property tax, a ten-cent levy to join the county’s library district.

“Under the statute, if you don’t pass your tax authorization in five years, then your sub district fails and your library and your library in that sub district is not created,” Brown said.

The lawsuit claims the Moniteau County Library Board contracted with Price James and Wood Place libraries to provide services, such as book rentals and meeting space, for residents of the respective areas.

“Such funds shall be used to provide library services in the subdistrict of the county library district,” state law reads, and the lawsuit cites.

The lawsuit claims the MCLD in 2014 collected $31,000 from taxpayers in the Western Subdistrict, and that none of that should go towards the “invalid” library district in California. The lawsuit calls for that money to go to the City of Tipton, which currently pays for the operation of the Price James Library.

Tipton residents came to Brown to handle the lawsuit earlier this year, Brown said. A former lawyer for the Missouri Public Library Directors, Brown is familiar with the law, and handled the lawsuit for the plaintiffs – the City of Tipton, Cindy Dix Suddarth, Leroy Knipp and Joe Ed Hartman. Suddarth first came to Brown to merely review the situation. After looking at the case, Brown decided litigation would help find answers to many of their questions.

“No one’s here to try and shut down a library, but we have to make sure that we follow the law, and we are always open to trying to resolve this short of litigation,” Brown said. “The problem is just that we didn’t feel like we were getting any pressure to be fair.”

Moniteau County Library director Connie Walker told ABC 17 News she preferred to wait until Thursday’s Board of Directors meeting before commenting on the lawsuit. She said the group would go into a closed session to discuss the issue.

Brown said the legality of the library districts needed a judge’s ruling to sort.

“[Libraries] are a community gathering point and a center for making people’s lives better and more enjoyable in Moniteau County,” Brown said. “And that’s something that’s worth tax support and worth caring about making it work.”

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