Grand libraries explain need for mill levy increase
Ryan Summerlin October 18, 2013
This election, Grand County Library District is seeking additional funding to keep its normal operations up and running.
If approved by voters, the ballot Referred Measure 1A would add a 1.5 mill levy to the existing district mill levy of 2.41. The current mill levy amounts to about $19 per $100,000 in home values, and the additional levy would add $12 to that amount — a total of $31 annually per $100,000. It’s an increase of 62 percent, but district administrators say it’s needed just to keep up with rising library costs.
“We’re not looking at growing the library significantly,” said Mary Anne Wilcox, the library district’s executive director. “We’re trying to maintain what we have and stay relevant to our community.”
The library’s primary source of revenue — about 95 percent — comes from property taxes. According to Wilcox, since the economic downturn caused local property values to drop, the library has been left scrambling to maintain its normal hours and services. Since 2010, the district’s total tax revenues have dropped by 17 percent. Without the proposed mill levy increase, they’re expected to fall by another 12 percent.
To get through the last few years of the economic slump, the library district has relied on a reserve fund set aside by its board of trustees. The fund has allowed library operations to remain consistent, but it’s about to dry up.
“When we did our restructuring, it wasn’t felt in a big way by the public, and that was by design,” Wilcox said. “But (the reserve fund) can’t help any further.”
In 2013, about 52 percent of the library district’s budget went to paying its staff. Wilcox’s greatest concern is layoffs, which impact library services across the board. A reduced staff also means a reduction in library programming and services. And it means cuts to libraries’ hours of operation countywide – in some cases, possible closures of up to a full day each week.
“When you lose personnel, you can’t keep operations up,” Wilcox said. “Voting ‘yes’ means our current open hours remain, current staffing levels are maintained, we have continued programs for children and adults, and library services, materials and technology are maintained.”
Wilcox said she’s heard community members raise concerns over the library district’s past budget management. In particular, some question the need for the district’s office building in Granby, which some see as excessive.
According to Wilcox, the building was purchased in 2004 for about $100 per square foot, which she called an “excellent deal.” The building provides space for library support services, from finance to technology. And most importantly, the building has a garage where the district can store its maintenance equipment.
“In 2004, we found ourselves with the responsibility of maintaining five branches widely spaced throughout the county,” Wilcox said. “We have tons of ladders, things necessary for maintaining buildings, and all sorts of other equipment and tools.”
A second concern raised by the community is the $400,000 the district spent on repairs at the Granby Library in late 2012.
“People had the idea that we did a remodel on our Granby Library, but it was not a remodel, it was a construction defect repair,” Wilcox said.
Water condensation caused mold and rusting in the building’s ceiling cavity, and the library had to close for repairs. The library district is currently trying to reclaim the costs of those repairs through legal proceedings with the building’s initial architectural firm and construction company.
“Some say we mismanaged our funds, but I don’t think we mismanaged them at all,” Wilcox said. “It’s important to protect our taxpayers investments in this building, to go forward with a good, solid structure and environment.”
Even if the repair costs aren’t recovered, Wilcox noted that they have little to do with a mill levy increase. The repair was a one-time rainy day expense, but the mill levy is a continual and crucial source of funding for the district’s ongoing operations. And district administrators see those operations as a vital civic service. The libraries not only provide a center of learning, but also serve as a non-commercial space for people to gather and interact.
“Our communities are under stress right now, and there’s no guarantee of when that will change,” Wilcox said, pointing to a closed elementary school and reduction in post office hours. “The library is just one more piece of what makes our community a community, and gives them an infrastructure they can rely on.”
But, as Wilcox points out, it’s up to those communities to decide which services they value and which resources they want to pay for in Grand County. The books, wireless connections, public computers, meeting rooms and programs for children and adults all have a cost.
“We’re terribly proud of our libraries all around,” Wilcox said. “We feel we’ve been good stewards of the public’s money up to this point, and we’ll continue that. We’ll live under the funding the public determines that they want.”
Leia Larsen can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603.