As our community grows and evolves, so too should our support for our libraries. I support creating a library district because now is the time to provide financial stability and independence for our libraries so that they can thrive. A library district is similar to that of a school district. It is not governed by the City or County and generates its funding from a mil-levy (property tax) within the boundaries of the district. Some ask why we need a library district since there are only a few City and/or County-wide services that qualify to have their own tax supported districts, including utilities, fire departments, and school districts. Reasons include budgetary stability, money saved in the General Fund, and an increased pool of paying residents who support our libraries.
Here are the reasons why I support creating a library district:
Creating a library district would offer budgetary stability to allow us to provide much needed deferred maintenance, maintain staff and programs, and create long sought-after libraries in Gunbarrel and/or Niwot.
The COVID pandemic has revealed much about our institutions, resiliency, and funding of important local programs. One of the direct lessons from the pandemic has been just how dependent we are on our sales tax to fund most of what we do in this City. Council knows all too well how hard we have been hit financially. The pandemic has illuminated a real vulnerability of the financial stability of our City’s budget. In particular, many services our community relies on have been scaled back or even cut; others are at risk. This is an extreme example of the trends we have been seeing over the years, which is that sales tax revenues are slowly declining. Ultimately many of our services are vying for a slice of an ever-shrinking pie. Yet this does not have to be the case for all of the services the City offers. In many situations “districts” can be created for a given service that isolates it from the cyclical, perhaps more catastrophic, budgetary impacts that can affect our City. Our libraries are way behind on deferred maintenance and renovations. Having a dedicated funding stream means they can get the funds needed to update our library infrastructure and even build new long-promised ones in Niwot and Gunbarrel.
Creating a library district would save the city $10-14 million dollars in its General Fund that could be redistributed to new or existing projects and/or services.
Given the budgetary restrictions our City has faced over the past year and will continue to deal with for at least another year, creating a library district is a perfect opportunity to regain some budgetary flexibility that the City desperately needs--and $10-14 million dollars will go a long way toward needed programs and services such as bringing furloughed staff back to 100%, improving our services for the unhoused, supporting/increasing affordable housing projects, and investing in city programs and events. Perhaps most importantly this would give us a chance to embark on many of the projects and initiatives that have never launched because of the age-old question, “Where are you going to get the money?”. Creating a library district is how, and this is where we can get some of the money we need, while also supporting our libraries.
Creating a library district will bring more people in to pay for the impacts they make on our library infrastructure and services.
Roughly 15-30% of the people who use our libraries do not live in the City and/or do not contribute to the City budget in a way that offsets their use of our libraries. This is very similar to our impact fees on new developments. A library district would bring a larger pool of residents to pay for the use and impacts on our libraries. The library district's boundaries would encompass an area larger than the city limits. This in turn broadens the tax base from which to generate the funding needed to support the libraries.
Another issue that is important here is that our libraries are being used by our unhoused as unofficial day shelters. This is not the intended use of our libraries nor is the facility and its staff equipped or trained to work with our unhoused. Until the City of Boulder more adequately invests in services for our unhoused, our libraries are going to be stressed and under-resourced as it pertains to helping our unhoused. Our libraries need support and this means giving them the power to control their own future.