Shining a Light on Boulder's Budget: How Would a Library District Help Boulder's Budget?

Forming a library district would free up at least $9.7 million/year in the city budget.   The library district would be responsible to implement the community’s vision for our library, so funding for increased staffing, future capital projects and maintenance of facilities (including the facilities backlog) would no longer be a city responsibility. 

These revenues would be freed up to go to other programs and services, or be refunded to taxpayers. Savings over ten years would add up to over $100 million dollars

 Most library districts continue to rely on their city government to provide administrative overhead services.  “Contracting back” with the library district for these services would turn this paper revenue stream into a real revenue stream of up to $3.4M/year.

The chart below compares cost savings realized by the city if a library district is formed, compared against city "unfunded needs"  projected from 2025 forward.


Read on for details about how forming a library district can help relieve pressure on the Boulder city budget.

What is the true cost of running our library today?

This chart shows the estimated full operating costs for our library today: about $13.4 million dollars (based on the 2019 budget)

 Projected costs to fund our library over five years are discussed below. These projections include operating costs, capital costs (small and major), administrative overhead costs (”cost allocation”), costs to address the substantial backlog of deferred maintenance in our five library buildings.

Operating Costs

Operating costs are our library's ongoing expenses. Major expenditure categories include:

  • Library staff, security and custodial services.
  • Computers, equipment and furnishings.
  • Library collections - books, ebooks, audiobooks, magazines & newspapers, DVDs, streamable movies & music, and on-line research & learning resources.

Administrative Overhead Costs

This category includes the "governance" departments discussed in Where Do Our Tax Dollars Go?  Staff in these departments are part of the city's overhead, and provide internal services to the library. "Cost allocation" is the name used by the city to describe these services, based on the city's internal accounting system. These services would still be needed in a library district, and the district would likely contract with the city to provide services like human resources and information technology. Payments by the district for these services would create a new revenue stream

Facilities Maintenance Costs

Our library facilities are aging and have a substantial backlog of "deferred maintenance" (issues such as roof replacement, problems in building envelopes, outdated boilers and HVAC, replacement of worn furnishings and finishes). 

Library facilities represent about 25% of the deferred maintenance backlog for the City as a whole. Over the years, the city has made several attempts to establish regularized funding to address the maintenance backlog, but other priorities continue to push deferred maintenance to a back burner.

An estimated $800,000/year is required to address the most pressing portion of the backlog over the next 5 years (estimated at $3.9M). There are additional costs in facilities maintenance in subsequent years ranging from $200,000 in 2020 to $1.3 million in 2023. Beginning in 2026, financial modeling projects an average annual cost of around $600,00 to address the backlog. 


What's missing from this chart?

 Library programs are funded primarily through financial contributions from the Boulder Library Foundation, and in-kind contributions from businesses and nonprofit organizations who partner with the library. The Library Foundation has been providing financial support to our library since 1974.

Today, BLF funds about 90% of our library’s programs, including summer reading, children, youth & family programs, literacy services, music and cultural programs. In the past four years, program attendance has increased 63%.

Around 1000 library volunteers  give their time each year. Volunteer hours contribute more than $600,000 each year, equal to about 11 FTE (~ 14% the library’s total work force). 


Capital costs

Our library currently has one major capital project: planning and construction of the North Boulder branch library.  A $1.5M - $2M shortfall has been identified, primarily due to rising construction costs.




What is the current status of our library's funding within the city?

In September 2018, City Council enthusiastically embraced our community's vision for library programs and services over the next 10 years (reflected in the 2018 Library Master Plan). But the proposed 2019 budget (presented one month later) recommended further cuts in library staff and non-personnel expenses. 

While Council rejected further cuts to the 2019 library budget, they voted to continue funding our library at the status quo - the same level of funding that our library has "enjoyed" since 2006.

What the community WON’T get with the status quo:

  • No $ for operating costs for the new North Boulder Library (or cut hours and services at other locations to operate NoBO).

  • Insufficient capital funds to complete vision for NoBo Library building( ie. net zero, playground, makerspace, partner spaces).

  • Carnegie and other branches won’t have expanded hours and may have hours cut and limited.

  • There will be no staff to support expanded youth programs and long delayed outreach to underserved populations (especially Latinos and seniors), nor to expand partnerships and volunteer activities (an important strategy to leverage resources.

  • Makerspace activities and literacy programs will not be expanded to the branches, and no expansion of BLDG 61.

  • No annual literacy program or programs aimed at building civic engagement.

  • Expenditures for books and materials won’t increase, staying at around $7.30 per user (vs. a standard of about $14 per user), resulting in longer wait lists for books and materials  and no increase in holds.  

  • The Canyon Theater will not be made more accessible for community use through increased staffing and minor renovations.

  • The promise of a branch  in Gunbarrel will remain a distant dream.If we form a library district (expanding the funding base to better match the patron base) the following additional benefits can be realized.

  • Provide Library services to areas currently outside the city, but within the proposed district boundaries - likely a corner library in Niwot and some form of mobile service for mountain communities.

  • Set aside funding within the library budget to address capital needs anticipated over the next 15-20 years, such as renovations of existing branches and/or expansion from corner libraries to full branches.

  • No archival storage or renovation at the Carnegie Library for Local History, 

  • No renovation of the George Reynolds branch.

  • The severe maintenance backlog on current library facilities will not be addressed, and library facilities will not be maintained at an appropriate level going forward.

  • Library branches will continue to operate with part time security services.

  • No ability to increase community awareness of library programs and services through increased marketing.


About the proposed Boulder Library District

Library districts are an alternative form of local governance, funded through taxes voted on by people living within the district's boundaries.

Library districts are now the most common form of governance and funding for public libraries in Colorado.

A primary purpose of library districts is to spread the costs of running the library more equitably among users.

About one-third of Boulder Public Library cardholders live outside of Boulder city limits. No other library system of Boulder’s size has a similar, disproportionate number of cardholders living outside the library’s boundaries.

The library district property tax would be applied to a larger service area, creating a funding base that better matches our library's user base.

Many residents who live just outside Boulder are hungry for library service. The broader service area of a library district would also fund new library services in areas that need a library, like Gunbarrel and Niwot.

Library districts typically do not pay for major capital projects through municipal bonds backed by tax dollars.

Because districts have predictable, dedicated revenue streams, they can set aside funding for large capital projects in an internal savings account.

Library districts are required by law to provide an annual report to the public detailing revenues and expenses. Districts typically account for operating expenses and capital projects in the same budget document. 


A dedicated property tax provides predictable funding, giving our library the ability to confidently plan for the future.

This chart compares the cost to fully fund our library within the existing city of Boulder boundaries compared to the larger service area in the proposed district. 


It uses the annual property tax on a home valued at $850,000 for this comparison.


Taxes on a $670,000 home (the average Boulder home value in 2019) would be about $192/year,


The property tax proposed to fund the district is “up to 4 mills.”  4 mills is $2.40 per month, or $28.80 per year, for every $100,000 of assessed residential property value, and about $1000 for every $1,000,000 of “actual”  commercial property value. See the Our Library's Funding Needs for a full explanation of how property taxes are assessed and links to the County Assessor's helpful tools,