- What is a library district and what will it do for the library?
- What’s actually on the ballot?
- How much would I pay, and what areas are included?
- What are the arguments against the district?
- What happens to the buildings if a district is formed?
- How would the library be governed, and who is accountable?
- Doesn't the 2023 budget restore all the library's cuts?
- Does the library district proposal double the library's current budget?
- How would a library district be funded?
- How high is the mill levy compared to other districts?
- What would a library district bring to my neighborhood, specifically?
- When will the library resume full operations?
- Would a dedicated sales tax be a better solution?
- Why can’t the City of Boulder just commit to fully funding the library?
- Will this be a “double-tax” for city residents?
- What happens to the freed-up funds in the city budget?
- I’m a senior on a fixed income. Can I afford this?
- How does the library district impact business owners?
- When will the North Boulder branch library be built?
- What is a corner library?
- Where would a Gunbarrel branch be located?
- Why not just charge people to use the library?
A library district is a special governing district that exists specifically to provide library services to a community. Library districts often serve a regional population, rather than a single town or city.
The State of Colorado passed laws allowing and regulating these districts in recognition of libraries’ importance in our communities. Library district law governs set-up, accountability, and funding, and to date has been used to create 56 library districts across the state!
Because of this, we like to say that Boulder’s library district proposal isn't special. It builds on successful models and follows established state law. Library advocates — as well as multiple city working groups — have proposed a library district because the cost to provide city services has been rising faster than revenues for more than 20 years.
The library, in particular, has often been the first city service to be cut when budgets are tight, and the last to be restored when fortunes improve. Before the pandemic hit, the library was operating at 2002 funding levels, despite significant growth in use. And while it represents only 3% of the City of Boulder’s budget, the library took 17% of the city’s budget cuts during the 2020 COVID budget crisis.
Stable funding through a library district via ballot measure 6C would allow for significant improvements that our community needs and expects, and in some cases has requested for years:
- Strengthened partnerships with schools to increase literacy, particularly with underserved and students who fell behind during pandemic;
- Restored and improved social-equity programs like BoulderReads and Reading Buddies;
- Providing additional, free and safe public spaces for community meetings, workshops and programs;
- Expanding services like literacy and STEAM programs, and access to free wi-fi for young people, underserved communities and seniors;
- Updated and improved collections of books and materials, including bilingual materials and downloading of e-books, movies and music;
- Expanding community workspaces - known as makerspaces - at Main and branch libraries;
- Expanded hours at the Main and branch libraries to meet increased demand;
- Re-opening of the Canyon Theater and Carnegie Library for Local History for public use;
- Repairs and renovations at Carnegie and Reynolds branches;
- Full funding of North Boulder branch;
- A new branch library in Gunbarrel;
- And improved cleanliness, safety, and security at all library facilities.
Here’s the language voters will be asked to approve this fall via ballot measure 6C:
Library District Formation and Mill Levy Tax and Revenue Change
SHALL THE BOULDER PUBLIC LIBRARY DISTRICT TAXES BE INCREASED $18,780,000 ANNUALLY FOR COLLECTION BEGINNING IN 2023, AND BY SUCH ADDITIONAL AMOUNTS RAISED ANNUALLY THEREAFTER BY AN AD VALOREM PROPERTY TAX MILL LEVY IMPOSED AT A RATE OF 3.5 MILLS TO PROVIDE FACILITIES AND SERVICES WHICH MAY INCLUDE:
RESTORED AND IMPROVED LITERACY PROGRAMS, INCLUDING PARTNERSHIPS WITH SCHOOLS TO REACH UNDERSERVED STUDENTS AND STUDENTS WHO FELL BEHIND DURING THE PANDEMIC;
ADDITIONAL FREE AND SAFE PUBLIC SPACES FOR COMMUNITY MEETINGS, WORKSHOPS AND PROGRAMS;
UPDATED AND IMPROVED COLLECTIONS OF BOOKS AND MATERIALS, INCLUDING BILINGUAL MATERIALS AND DOWNLOADING OF E-BOOKS, MOVIES, AND MUSIC;
EXTENDED HOURS AT ALL EXISTING LIBRARIES AND A NEW BRANCH LIBRARY IN GUNBARREL;
EXPANDED ACCESS TO STEAM PROGRAMS, MAKERSPACES, AND FREE INTERNET FOR YOUNG PEOPLE, UNDERSERVED COMMUNITIES AND SENIORS;
IMPROVED MAINTENANCE, CLEANLINESS, SAFETY, AND SECURITY AT ALL LIBRARY FACILITIES;
AND SHALL THE DISTRICT BE ENTITLED TO COLLECT, RETAIN AND SPEND THOSE REVENUES IN ADDITION TO ANY OTHER TAXES, FEES OR OTHER REVENUES OF THE DISTRICT, NOTWITHSTANDING ANY LIMITATION OR RESTRICTION OF ARTICLE X, SECTION 20 OF THE COLORADO CONSTITUTION, OR WITHOUT REGARD TO THE 5.5% PROPERTY TAX REVENUE LIMITATION OF SECTION 29-1-301, C.R.S., OR ANY OTHER LAW, AND SHALL THE DISTRICT BE FORMED?
View a map of the proposed library district boundary, created by the City of Boulder, in which you can input your address and see your estimated cost per year. Please note that if you live within the City of Boulder, the existing .333 mill levy will be repealed following passage of the district ballot measure in November, which means that Boulder residents will pay less what the map shows (approximately 9.5% less).
A library district would be funded by a property tax of $23/year for every $100,000 of taxable value of a residence, which the County Assessor calls “actual value” for assessment purposes (See Boulder County Assessor explanation for the difference between “actual value” and assessed value). Please note that this value is not what you - or Zillow - think your home is worth, and it is not the market value of your home. It’s the taxable value of your home as assessed by the county.
- A home with an “actual value” of $500,000 would pay $9.62/month or $115/year.
- A home with an “actual value” of $900,000 would pay $17.25/month or $207/year.
For commercial properties, the cost would be about $97.60 for every $100,000 of actual commercial value. We believe, for most office-type spaces, this equates to an additional $0.15 - $0.18 NNN cost per square foot per year.
As with any tax measure, there will always be a percentage of voters who oppose it. Supporting or opposing a tax is a values judgment, and those who don't see the library as a valuable asset — valuable enough for investment — are going to oppose this measure.
Opponents to the district may not come out and directly say that they don't want taxation, though. So, this listing of the top myths associated with our campaign might be helpful in understanding what you might've heard from opponents to the district:
- Tackling myths about the library district, part I
- Tackling myths about the library district, part II
While some folks may oppose a tax because of valid affordability reasons, we urge our readers to avoid lumping in all folks, whether they are low-income, seniors, businesses or others, into the same box. People of every age, income level, and political stripe, as well as many businesses, do strongly support our measure. This is why we are so proud to share that our polling this year showed that likely voters support the district measure 3-to-1.
Our library’s assets — the buildings and materials — would continue to be used in the same way they are used today if ballot measure 6C passes. All the buildings would continue to be publicly accessible facilities, and library materials and equipment would be available to patrons just as they are today.
There is no plan for the district to assume ownership of any buildings or land. Because City Council would be an establishing entity of the district should it pass this November, they discussed in their March 15 study session how to transition buildings on the proposed Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA). A majority of Council preferred a long term lease arrangement for all library buildings and branches, so no transfer of building or land ownership is planned for the district. The IGA will be finalized shortly after a successful vote.
The building of our library system has truly been a community effort. All library facilities were developed, and their underlying sites purchased, with funds specifically designated for library purposes. These funds were obtained through direct citizen action: public votes, community donations and bequests; excise taxes/impact fees; and state/federal grants.
Our library system was built by our community, and library facilities will remain in service to our community as part of a library district. Learn more about the library buildings in our blog post here.
In accordance with Colorado Library Law, library districts are governed by a board of trustees, who are in turn overseen by establishing entities of the district. In Boulder, this oversight, selection, appointment, and removal of trustees rests fully with the Boulder City Council + County Commissioners.
Colorado Library Law sets the legal framework for how library districts are managed. To be specific, state law outlines that a library district’s Board of Trustees are appointed by its ‘establishing entities’ — Boulder City Council and the Boulder County Commissioners — in perpetuity. Colorado library law also provides for the removal — even in mid-term — of trustees by these elected bodies.
Library boards may not ‘pick their own successors’, as some skeptics have suggested. The appointment process provides a degree of ongoing control over library decision-making by elected officials (including authority to remove a member for cause), while not subjecting the library to the political motivations of elected trustees. The powers and duties of Trustees are limited to library purposes and specifically defined by law.
The library district would continue to be governed by an appointed Board of Trustees, continuing the tradition of library governance by an appointed Library Commission established in the first City Charter 100 years ago.
With nearly 60 thriving and long-established library districts across the state, we have many working examples to look to, including two in Boulder County: Nederland and Lyons. With more than 30 years of experience in Colorado, this model has proved to be an effective form of governance for library systems.
A primary reason why library district trustees are appointed, rather than directly elected, is to provide a buffer against the kinds of censorship activities, which crop up in the U.S. in periodic waves as we are seeing today. Read more about that in our blog post here.
State law also requires a high degree of transparency from library districts, including two reports each year to the community and elected officials regarding use of tax dollars and the programs, services, and facilities provided to the community.
‘Keep Our Libraries (Closed)’, the group that opposes the library district, is deliberately deceiving voters by saying library funding is increasing by 11% (according to one source) and 21% (according to another source) in 2023. The answer is that no, the proposed 2023 budget does not restore the library’s funding. Read more about the 2023 budget here >>
Why are they saying it? To arrive at their claim of a 20% increase, they are using:
- the one-time capital expenditure for the new NoBo branch, adding in what it will cost to staff the new NoBo branch, and
- including philanthropic donations as if they were taxpayer dollars/paid by the City
The 2023 budget will not restore hours, raise the books and materials budget to levels comparable with other libraries of our size, or allow the library to address its crumbling building infrastructure, allow the library to expand its literacy programs (including more partnerships with schools), allow for greater outreach to underserved communities. And of course, it will not provide for a Gunbarrel branch. Most importantly, 2023 budget allocations do not, as our opponents would argue, put the library on a long-term path to financial stability. A library district does that.
Of the $1.89M in the proposed budget, $1M will go to stocking and staffing the new NoBo branch, a project that has been 35 years in the making. The rest of the funding ($890K) restores the library to its pre-pandemic (2020) funding levels and includes $250,000 from Boulder Library Foundation, which funds greater than 90% of the library's programs. As you can see in the chart below, the library was operating at 2002 funding levels in 2020. "Restoring" the library to 2002 funding levels — as well as stating that private donations are the long-term fix — does not solve the library's ongoing funding issues.
When crisis hits, budget allocations disappear as the library is always the first to be cut and the last to have its funding restored. That’s the nature of unstable sales tax revenues.
No. In reality, ballot measure 6C would add 12% to the library’s budget: an additional $2M. Here's the math:
- The City's projected cost for running the library is $16.78M in 2023.
- The proposed 3.5 mill property tax levy to fund the library district is projected to yield about $18.78 million in 2023
- There is a $2M difference between the current City costs of running the library, and the proposed costs for the library district. A 12% increase.
Details on the cost of running the library have been repeatedly shared in public meetings by City staff to Council. The official City slide from April 2022 can be seen clearly at the 1:22:15 minute mark in this video, and below. On September 22, Council again sought to have staff clarify the true cost to run the library, and that presentation can be seen at the 1:53:00 minute mark in this video.
Critics who say the library district doubles the budget are using the library’s 2019 operating budget only ($9.18M), and comparing it to the $18.78M proposed for the library district. This is an apples to oranges comparison, and our opponents should amend their statements.
The Boulder Daily Camera dispelled the myth of the "doubling of the budget" in their September 25 editorial: "Still, some have noted that $18.7 million is a huge increase from the $10.4 million the city budgeted for libraries in 2022. Why would the district need $8 million more dollars per year?
"The truth, though, is that the city estimated the actual 2022 cost of running the libraries to be $16.8 million. In addition to the budgeted operating costs, that actual cost includes expenses among other city departments, building maintenance and the cost to finish construction on the North Boulder branch.
"So, in reality, the district would provide something closer to $2 million in new funding — a far more reasonable increase. And you only have to look at the fact that some branches can’t even afford to be open seven days a week to see that our libraries are underfunded. Two million dollars will go a long way."
A Boulder Public Library District would be funded by a property tax on what the county calls the “actual value” (not sales price) of a property. The proposed tax is 3.5 mills, which equals $23 per $100,000 of actual value. For a home assessed at $500,000, the tax would be $9.62/month, or about $115/year.
Right now, only City of Boulder taxes pay for the library, even though 30% of cardholders live in areas outside the city limits. Gunbarrel and other unincorporated parts of Boulder County would be brought into the tax base, so that it more closely matches the user base of the library.
A library district is the most equitable way to provide a regional service - and it avoids the regressive sales taxes on which much of Boulder’s budget relies.
At 3.5 mills, Boulder’s library district tax levy would be low compared to other Front Range communities:
- Nederland Library District - 6.415 mills (4.4 mills for operating, remainder for a capital bond)
- Pueblo City-County Library District - 5.889 mills
- Arapahoe Library District - 5.875 mills
- Lyons Public Library District - 5.85 mills
- Jefferson County Library - 4.5 mills
- Douglas County Library District - 4 mills
- Pikes Peak Library District (Colorado Springs) - 3.934 mills
- Rangeview/Anythink Library District (Adams County ) - 3.69 mills
- PROPOSED BOULDER LIBRARY DISTRICT - 3.5 mills
- High Plains Library District (Weld County plus Erie) - 3.249 mills
- Poudre River Library District - 3 mills
There are many benefits to forming a library district, the most important of which is providing our highly popular library system with a reliable source of revenue long-term so that it can grow with the community it serves. In addition, several neighborhoods will see specific improvements:
- North Boulder: The long-awaited North Boulder branch library will break ground later this year, thanks to dedicated funding approved in 2017. But several spaces requested by the community have been scraped due to city budget cuts. A library district will provide funding to build the makerspace, community kitchen, and playground that were part of the original design. District funding will also help fully stock and staff the new branch library, which will give neighbors access to community meeting spaces, storytime and STEAM programs, and Spanish-language services - to say nothing of books and other media.
- South Boulder: A library district will fund overdue repairs at the George Reynolds branch and restore its hours to pre-pandemic levels. A library district would also allow for expanded programming and services, including makerspace and STEAM activities, at the Reynolds and Meadows branches.
- Gunbarrel and unincorporated Boulder County: More than 30 percent of Boulder library cardholders live in unincorporated areas of Boulder County. These users can expect expanded outreach services and programming, and a dedicated library board whose explicit mission includes serving their communities. Residents of Gunbarrel can look forward to a new corner library - the first step towards a full branch location. By bringing city and county neighborhoods together into a single district, a library district solves the decades-old problem of underfunding community amenities in this growing area.
- Downtown Destinations: For all Boulder residents, a library district will provide funding to re-open and fully staff three unique spaces in the heart of Boulder. The Carnegie Branch Library for Local History will receive repairs and additional archival space. The Main Library’s innovative BLDG 61 makerspace - currently only open 2 days per week - will be able to keep its tools in action and offer them to more users. And the 200-seat Canyon Theater will once again be available for free public use, expanding opportunities for community-driven arts and educational programming.
Without a library district, we don’t know.
Unlike other city departments, the library’s budget has not yet been restored to pre-pandemic levels. Because of staffing cuts, the Main Library, Reynolds, Meadows, and North Boulder branches are all operating with reduced hours, and the Carnegie Library for Local History is closed.
Social equity programs like Reading Buddies and BoulderReads have reduced capacity because their staff positions have been terminated. The collection budget, which was already low relative to peer libraries, remains below its pre-pandemic level, even though patron demand remains high (especially for expensive electronic materials).
It didn’t have to be this way. Colorado libraries operated by library districts reopened quickly after the initial pandemic closures. They were offering access to physical collections, programming, meeting rooms, and maker spaces long before Boulder’s libraries were able to reopen.
Why the difference? With stable funding from property taxes, library districts were able to retain sufficient staff during the pandemic to meet patron demand, enforce social distancing, and perform extra cleaning to ensure everyone’s safety. However, municipal libraries, funded like ours, are struggling to support even basic services after sales tax revenue plummeted and budgets were cut or diverted to support pandemic responses.
Boulder City Council considered and rejected a dedicated sales tax for library funding in 2019. Sales taxes are regressive and prone to boom and bust cycles, and Boulder already has one of the highest local rates in Colorado. On top of that, sales taxes aren’t keeping up. For more than 20 years, revenues have lagged substantially behind the cost to deliver local services.
Dedicated sales taxes sound good, but we’ve seen them fall short for other city departments. For example, Boulder’s Open Space and Transportation departments - both recipients of dedicated taxes - have significant maintenance backlogs because revenues have not kept pace with growth and community demand. Property tax revenues grow with communities and provide a more stable and predictable source of funding.
Boulder’s annual budget relies on a high proportion of dedicated sales taxes (e.g. Open Space), which leaves City Council with little flexibility to adjust spending priorities. Twelve departments - including the Library - compete for a portion of the city’s unrestricted General Fund, which itself is declining as a portion of Boulder’s total budget. While city leaders have been aware of funding issues for 30 years, the library’s budget remained at 2002 levels through 2019 - even as demand for services grew.
The last time the City dedicated funds for operations to their library was 1918, in response to Andrew Carnegie's conditions that he would help the City build its first library only if the City developed a dedicated fund for it. Today, this mill (which will be repealed if issue 6C passes) yields about $1.4M, or about 8% of the library's needs. No other dedicated funding for the library exists.
Opponents suggest that the City can't be trusted to steward these freed up funds (which represent about 3% of the City's overall budget), and that this is a reason to vote no on a district. But, if we don't trust the City to steward our assets, why do we trust the City to steward our library? We can't keep our libraries in this downward cycle of cuts to services. Voters can break the cycle this year by voting yes on issue 6C.
Boulder’s annual operating budget is about $300M, of which only about $134M goes to the General Fund. More than half of the annual operating budget is dedicated by law to specific departments or programs - like Open Space - and cannot be reallocated during the budgeting process. The library receives the proceeds of a 0.333 mill property tax (about $1.4M/year), but must otherwise compete with departments like Police ($40.5M), Fire ($23.4M), and Parks and Recreation ($28.2M) for the bulk of its budget.
So while polls consistently show that 70% or more of Boulder residents support increased library funding, in many ways city leaders’ hands are tied. It’s difficult to increase funding for popular services without taking from others. And in the absence of another dedicated tax, decisions to increase library funding could be reversed at any time.
A library district would provide a stable revenue stream in addition to boosting funding. And that stability is critical to investing in buildings, staff, and materials, as well as developing quality programs for our community.
No. The library does currently have a dedicated property tax levy in the City of Boulder of 0.333 mills (providing ~$1.4M in the current Boulder Public Library budget) which can only be used for library purposes. This mill levy is on the November ballot to be repealed, if the district passes. In that case, all City of Boulder residents will have an effective property tax increase of only 3.167 mills (3.5 mills for the new library district, minus 0.333 mills for the existing property tax). The Boulder Daily Camera reported on Council's intended repeal on September 25, 2022.
There are so many worthy and popular programs and projects that the city could invest in to improve quality of life in Boulder. As Library Champions, we do not have an official position on how the freed up General Fund dollars – which would amount to roughly $10M annually – should be applied.
City Council has committed to having a robust, public discussion about reallocating funds if a library district is formed, and we support this approach. On September 22, 2022, Council set the direction for this public process and gave some preliminary direction to staff around how to analyze and present investment opportunities to Council and the public. We strongly encourage residents to participate in city budget deliberations, and to contact City Council to share their thoughts.
Assuming the library district is formed, 2023 will be a transition year for funding and services. Because property taxes for 2023 won’t be fully available to the library district until the end of that year, the city will continue to fund the library until the library district is self-sufficient. To quote the staff memo “It is anticipated the district would repay the city for any loan over a short period of time, as well as for any of the time the district exists and is collecting revenue, but the city is providing the services.” Details about the budget process can be viewed here.
We believe libraries provide outstanding value to seniors in our community, but we understand property taxes can be challenging for residents with fixed incomes. The State of Colorado and Boulder County offer relief through two programs:
- Senior tax exemption: If you are 65 or older, you can apply for a tax deferral on your primary residence. The taxes are then paid when the property sells or changes ownership. Interest is charged on the loan, but at a low rate (currently 1.375%). Some seniors have realized they can invest their property tax dollars and make more than the interest charged on the exemption. Deferrals are renewed annually, so you can decide whether or not to take them each year, based on your needs.
- Senior homestead exemption: If you are 65 or older and have owned and lived in your home for at least ten years, 50% of the first $200,000 in actual value (as calculated by the County Assessor) of your primary residence is exempted from property tax. The State of Colorado reimburses the county treasurer for any lost revenue.
When we talk about taxes, it’s important to talk about what we get in return. Boulder’s library has always been an important resource for seniors. The home delivery program serves residents with mobility challenges, to reduce the need for in-person visits. Libraries fight isolation. In the first wave of the pandemic, Boulder library staff attempted to call every cardholder over 65 to check in and ask how the library could be of service. And many retirees have found purpose and community through the library’s volunteer opportunities. A library district will ensure these services and opportunities exist when we need them. Read more about how the library district impacts seniors in our blog post >>
As former Governor John Hickenlooper said, “Two of the most important assets any town has are its library and its Main Street.”
Businesses and their employees are heavy users of library services. Boulder’s library provides free meeting and co-working spaces, help with creating business plans, and access to financial and marketing research databases. It also teaches basic literacy and computing skills for those in need. Meanwhile, the library’s BLDG 61 makerspace acts as a business incubator. It provides free access to high-tech tools like 3D printers, looms, and laser cutters, and has helped launch over 75 small businesses and 12 patent applications. Read more about the impact of the district on local businesses on our blog >>.
Boulder’s library supports workforce development through job-coaching, including real-time interview practice, full-service resume review, and a writing lab. It also offers free access to dozens of self-paced classes to learn new skills, upgrade qualifications, and earn certificates and high school degrees. Through the Boulder Reads program, adult learners can prepare to take the GED.
An educated workforce helps a business's bottom line. And thriving cultural assets - such as arts, libraries, and parks - are also part of what draws businesses and employees to the region. Public libraries are a good investment to make for the community.
The North Boulder branch library is scheduled to break ground in fall of 2022. Rising construction costs have delayed the project, and have forced the library to cut several popular elements - net-zero features, a makerspace, community kitchen, and playground - from the original design.
A library district would provide the funding needed to complete the North Boulder branch as designed.
Corner libraries are small facilities that test the waters to see if there is demand for a full branch in a neighborhood. Boulder’s first corner library opened in a North Boulder storefront in 2014, and paved the way for the new branch set to open in 2023.
Corner libraries are important community gathering spaces. They offer a place to pick up and drop off materials close to home, saving a trip downtown. They can offer literacy classes, Spanish classes, storytimes, and other popular programs. When libraries are near where people live, people visit often, creating a sense of community and belonging.
When the North Boulder corner library opened in 2014, it quickly became one of the busiest places in the neighborhood. With funding from a library district, Gunbarrel will get one next, putting it on a path to its own full-service branch.
The planning process for constructing a new branch library is lengthy, so Gunbarrel would first get a corner library in a rented space. Typically, the library negotiates free or very low cost leases because commercial property owners perceive value in the activity they generate. Libraries draw regular visitors who then patronize nearby businesses.
Gunbarrel Center would be an ideal location for a new branch library, given its proximity to groceries, cafes, bus lines, and other services. After a library district is formed, the new Board of Trustees would be responsible for selecting and securing a location. The new board could include residents of unincorporated Gunbarrel - the neighborhood will have a voice in a library district!
Public libraries are public institutions. They are not reserved for those who can afford to pay to use services. While pay-to-play works for private entities, the public library is part of the social infrastructure of a community, much like parks. Think of the parks as Boulder's backyard, and the library as Boulder's living room. Anyone in the community is welcome to use the library, regardless of their economic status and ability. That's what makes libraries such an important part of weaving a community of all backgrounds, abilities, ages, and income levels together.
Our proposal honors this commitment to free public access, while asking the entire community to support it. A library district is an equitable and sustainable approach to funding a shared asset.