Boulder City Council will reconsider library district proposal

 

January 1, 2020

Jocelyn Rowley

The NoBo Corner Library (4600 Broadway) is the newest branch in the Boulder system. If approved, a districting scheme would raise enough money annually to cover current operating costs for the five existing branches (Main, Carnegie, Meadows, Reynolds and North Boulder), plus allow for new facilities in Gunbarrel and Niwot, depending on community interest.

Proponents of a regional library district got a boost last month when the Boulder City Council agreed to prioritize the issue during an upcoming "deep dive" into the city's long-term budget and budgeting processes. At a study session on Dec. 10, eight members of the council approved a proposal by city manager Jane Brautigam to conduct "a holistic review" of the city's funding needs, starting in early spring with a "robust conversation" about a potential Boulder Library District.

"We are very happy that this issue is on their agenda, since our petition drive has already tee'd up a vote on library distracting on the 2020 ballot," wrote Joni Teter responding to the announcement. Teter is a former library commissioner and founding member of the Boulder Library Champions, a grassroots organization that promotes sustainable funding for the library. "We sincerely hope that a decision is made to form the district by resolution, since that approach provides the community with the greatest certainty and transparency about what forming a library district means."


Council's renewed interest in a potential library district comes after several questions about Boulder's ongoing financial obligations arose during the adoption of the 2020 budget. Of particular concern, Brautigam noted, were "a long list of items that are unfunded" across various city departments, totaling more than $360 million. That prompted two council members-Bob Yates and Mary Young-to approach the longtime city manager about how to best allocate Boulder's ever-shrinking pool of revenues to an ever-growing litany of needs.

"I think the issue of the financial strategy for the budget is going to be one of the top priorities that the city council will be facing over the next two years, and other council members have noticed that as well," Brautigam said during her remarks at the study session. "We need to start prioritizing what we do. We need to be thinking about our master plans holistically, and about our budget and financial strategy in a holistic manner."

For Brautigam and the council, that means the formation of the Financial Strategy Study Committee, which is tasked with providing a "focused examination" of the city's long-term budget needs and developing new tools to identify funding gaps and evaluate the city's revenue sources. Yates and Young have agreed to serve on the panel, and will work with city staff members over the next two years to refine the budgeting process.


First up on the agenda for the new committee is a "substantive discussion" about sustainable funding for the Boulder Public Library at its March study session. There, the council will hear from city staff about the potential financial ramifications of a library district for the City of Boulder and then make a recommendation about whether to move forward.

Teter and the Champions are eager for the opportunity to engage with council again on the issue, and have prepared a detailed memorandum for council members of the next steps involved in the process and how the new governmental entity could potentially provide not only sustainable funding for the BPL system, but also help "free up General Fund dollars that the city can allocate to other budget priorities."

"Forming a library district would free up $9-10 million/year in direct annual expenditures for library operations; reduce the City's maintenance backlog and future capital costs by $1.18 million/year, and create a revenue stream of up to $3.4 million/year by contracting with the library district to provide administrative services," reads an excerpt from the recommendations.

In Colorado, there are two ways to form a library district - through a vote of the residents in the proposed boundaries, or through an agreement of the local municipal and county government. Thanks to a petition drive held in the spring of 2019, the Champions have enough signatures to get the measure onto the 2020 ballot, but are hoping council will create the district following their study session, leaving Boulder County voters with just the funding question to ponder. In the districting proposal, that funding will come from a levy "not to exceed four mills" on property owners within its boundaries, translating to $28.80 per $100,000 of assessed residential property value, or an additional $230.40 for a home in Boulder County valued at $800,000.


But whether the voters or council makes the final decision about a local library district, Teter and the Boulder Library Champions are committed to furthering the cause of sustainable library funding, an issue that has deep roots in the local soil.

"We also did our own deep dive into library history and learned just how extensively our community has been involved in development of our library system," Teter wrote. "Every library facility was built, expanded and renovated with funds designated for library purposes through community votes (often initiated by community members), community donations and grants."

Boulder Library Champions is now recruiting volunteers and supporters. If you would like to help bring a library district to Boulder County, visit boulderlibrarychampions.org/volunteer

 

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