Frequently Asked Questions

 

Why a library district?

Because of the importance of libraries, the state of Colorado created a special way of funding them: the library district.

This is what the city and county are using to set up a Boulder-area library district, and it is the law followed by 56 other districts across the state. The law governs set up, governance, and funding for all districts. Boulder’s library district proposal isn't special, it follows established law.

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The reason for proposing a district is that the cost to provide city services has been rising faster than revenues for more than 20 years, digging a deep budget hole for most community services. As late as 2019, the library was operating at 2002 funding levels. And while the library only represents 3% of the city's budget, it took 17% of the permanent cuts during the 2020 COVID budget crises.

The library is the first city service to be cut when budgets are low, and last to be funded when fortunes change. This feast-and-famine cycle is no way to treat the heart of our community. The library needs stable funding -- just like the 56 other library districts across the state currently operate.

Library districts are, in fact, the most common form of library governance. It's a tried and true method for library systems, and ensures lasting, stable funding.

Improvements to our library system under a library district would be striking, significantly improving this community asset. They include:

  • 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;
  • New branches in Gunbarrel;
  • And improved cleanliness, safety, and security at all library facilities.

Will I get to vote on the library district?

If you live within Boulder city limits or within the proposed district boundaries in Boulder County, yes. Once the Boulder City Council and the Boulder County Commissioners approve the formation of a library district and settle on the proposed district tax rate, all voters within the district boundary will have a say on whether or not they support the library district tax. If the tax passes, the district will be funded and can begin to function.

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If the tax vote fails, it can be put before voters a second time. If the second vote fails, the district can be dissolved.

Formation of the Lyons Library District shows why second votes are sometimes necessary. The Lyons district was formed by Town Trustees and Commissioners from Boulder and Larimer Counties in 2013. In September of that year, flooding devastated the Town. The library district ballot measures failed 51%-49%. They passed resoundingly when the community voted a second time. Most library districts have been approved by their communities on the first ballot.


What geographic areas does the district include?

View a map of the proposed library district boundary.


What would a library district bring to my neighborhood, specifically?

The benefits to forming a district are many, the most important of which is providing our much-loved and highly popular library system with a reliable source of revenue long-term so that it can grow with the community it serves.

  • For North Boulder residents, that means fully stocking and staffing the new NoBo library, which will be built in 2023. A library district will provide funding to build the maker space, community kitchen and playground which were cut from the original design due to city budget cuts. It would provide community meeting space, expand Storytime and STEAM programs and offer additional services to benefit the low income and Latino residents who live nearby.
  • For South Boulder residents, that means fixing delayed repairs to the George Reynolds branch and restoring its hours (and funding) to pre-pandemic levels. A library district would also provide for expanded programming and services, including maker and STEAM activities, to the Reynolds and Meadows branches.
  • For folks in the unincorporated areas, that means expanded outreach services and programming, as well as the creation of a Gunbarrel library branch.

For all Boulder residents, that means re-opening and fully staffing the Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, repairing our beloved historic building and adding archival space. A library district will restore hours to the Main branch, restore and expand programs at the BLDG 61 makerspace, restore the BoulderReads and Reading Buddies programs and the many other library partnerships related to STEAM, literacy, and opportunities for all. It means re-opening the Canyon Theater as a free, public space for community use, and expanded outreach programming so that underserved communities like our Latinx, immigrant, and senior communities can get programming that meets their needs.


When will the library resume full operations?

Our library’s budget has not been restored to pre-pandemic levels. The Main library, Reynolds, Meadows, and NoBo branches are all operating with reduced hours, and the Carnegie Library for Local History is closed, all due to staffing cuts.

Critical social equity programs like Reading Buddies and Boulder Reads are reduced because critical staff positions have been terminated. The collection budget, which was already low relative to peer libraries, is below pre-pandemic spending, even though patron demand remains high (especially for expensive electronic materials).

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It didn’t have to be this way. Peer libraries funded as library districts have opened all their branches. They were offering free access to physical collections, programming, meeting rooms, and maker spaces long before Boulder was 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 as sales tax revenue plummeted and city budgets were cut or funding diverted to support pandemic responses.


How would a district be funded?

The district would be funded by a property tax on what the county calls the “actual value” (not sales price) of a home. The proposed tax is $23 per $100,000 of actual value. For a home assessed at $500,000, the increase is in the range of $115/year.

Right now, only city taxes pay for the library, even though 30% of cardholders live in areas outside of the city limits. The people of 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.

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A library district is the most equitable way for a community to support services -- and avoids the regressive nature of sales taxes on which much of Boulder's city budget relies. The exact amount of the tax will be defined as part of the district formation process, and all voters in the district will have the opportunity to vote on whether to impose the tax.


What would I pay for a library district?

The proposed tax would be about $23/year for every $100,000 of taxable value of the property, 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 (County Assessor’s “actual value” for assessment purposes Boulder County Assessor explanation). We believe, for most office type spaces, this equates to an additional $0.15 - $0.18 NNN cost per square foot per year.

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At 3.5 mills, funding would be on the low end compared to library districts in communities of similar size (and property values) and in the other library districts operating in Boulder County. 

  • 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

Some have proposed a dedicated sales tax for the library instead. Has that been considered?

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 do not provide a reliable revenue stream. For more than 20 years, growth in city sales tax revenues has lagged substantially behind the cost to deliver services.

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For example, our Open Space and Transportation departments, which are funded through dedicated sales tax, have significant maintenance backlogs because sales tax revenues have not kept pace with growth and community demand. Property taxes grow with communities and provide a more stable and predictable form of funding.


Why can’t the City of Boulder just fully fund the library directly?

The simple answer is, the way that Boulder funds most of its services, through sales tax with a high proportion of dedicated revenue streams, ties the hands of its City Council from making drastic changes to the budget year over year. Moreover, the picture is getting worse in Boulder as the portion of the budget that the Library is funded out of is getting smaller. This will mean more cuts for the library and less stable funding for the future.

The discussion over the library’s funding needs began over 30 years ago. As a city department, it has endured the feast/famine cycles of a city budget that is reliant primarily on sales taxes to fund its services. In that time, demand for the library has only grown, while overall wealth across the city has also increased. However, the library’s budget has remained flat — in 2019, it was operating at 2002 funding levels.

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Prior to the pandemic, some gains were made in the city’s budget, but the pandemic caused massive budget and service cuts from which the library hasn’t recovered. In the meantime, other cities prioritized re-opening their branches — like Denver — as public health restrictions were lifted. Boulder services remained limited, long after public health restrictions were lifted, because the library lacks the funding to restore staff to its pre-pandemic levels. Additionally, regions that have library districts — Pueblo, Estes Park, Adams county, Erie, Fort Collins — did not see meaningful disruption in their services or staffing due to the pandemic, because library districts are simply far more stable during times of economic crisis.

Without a dedicated tax, any commitment by the City Council would not be binding past one year of funding. Currently, Boulder has $300.1M operating budget with $134,145,347 going into the General Fund. The General Fund is money the Council can allocate anyway it pleases and funds things like the police, fire department, Parks and Recreation, and the Library. The other $169,948,323 are dedicated funds. These funds pay for things like OSMP and Cultural Capital products and can't be reallocated by the city’s budget process. The current Library budget also includes a 0.333 Mill Levy of dedicated property for library funding.  

Out of the General Fund, $40,486,348 goes to fund the police. Another $23,420,511 goes to the fire department. The Library receives $9,439,898 from the General Fund. With as many as 12 departments wrestling with funding from the flat, and decreasing “General Fund” pot, the ability of the City to “shift” funding from one department to another without serious cuts in other City Services, like the Police or Fire Department, is severely limited.  

So, when we are asked “why doesn’t Boulder City Council just prioritize library funding?” The answer becomes, without drastic cuts in other city services, like the police and fire department, their hands are probably tied. 

The city and the region supports sustainable funding for our library. In poll after poll of local residents, we always see 70%+ support for library funding and growth. It's time to get this done for the community.




Will this be a “double-tax” for city residents?

No. The library currently has a dedicated property tax levy in the City of Boulder of .333 mills (providing ~$1.4M in the current Boulder Public Library budget) which can only be used for library purposes. A majority of Council members have indicated interest in eliminating this tax so that Boulder residents are not “double taxed.”

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If the existing .333 mill levy is eliminated, Boulder residents will have an effective property tax increase of 3.167 mills, or $21.53 per $100K of residential property. Because this .333 mills of dedicated library funding is in the City Charter, an additional ballot measure will be required to eliminate the .333 mills. 


What happens to the freed up funds in the city budget?

There are so many worthy and popular programs and projects that the city could invest in to improve quality of life in Boulder. The Library Champions 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 this in the spring and early summer, and we encourage city residents to contact them to voice their opinions on the budget process.

 


Does the district proposal double the library's current budget?

No. City staff have consistently stated the actual numbers to Council, and yet this myth persists. The library's current budget is $13.5M. In 2022, if the 2020 budget cuts are restored, and the library gets funding for the new North Boulder Library, the library's budget will be $15.5M. The library district proposal will raise roughly $18.5M. This is a 19.3% increase on the current budget, or an increase of $3M from the current budget that is slated for the library. That is nowhere near "double".

 


I’m a senior on a fixed income. Can I afford higher property taxes?

Property taxes can be a challenge for some seniors on fixed incomes. The State of Colorado and Boulder County offer two programs aimed at helping seniors cope with property taxes.

  • 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 it is a low interest rate (currently 1.375%). Some seniors realized they could invest their property tax dollars and make more than the interest charged on the exemption. Seniors apply to get a new deferral each year, so people can evaluate their needs each year. (Need that new roof or boiler? Defer.)
  • 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 this lost revenue.

The library is also an important resource for seniors. The library home delivery program serves seniors and those with mobility issues directly, so that they can get the resources they need without needing to come in-person.

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And when the pandemic hit, Boulder library staff attempted to call every senior over the age of 65 in the library card system. Their call was a welfare check, to make sure that the seniors in the Boulder community were doing ok, and to ask them how the library could be of service. For some seniors, the library is one of their only sources for human interaction. Volunteers make up approximately 14% of the library's entire workforce, and retirees make up the bulk of that group. Many retired professionals have found meaning and purpose through the library's volunteer opportunities. It's vitally important that the library is there for those who depend on it the most.


How does the library district impact business owners?

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. Our library provides free meeting and co-working spaces, help with creating business plans, access to financial and marketing research databases. It also provides tech training resources like computer skills and email basics. And BLDG 61, the library's makerspace, has seen over 75 small businesses launched, including 12 patent applications. BLDG 61 is an incubator for small businesses. It provides free access to high tech tools like 3D printers, looms, woodworking equipment, laser cutters, a CNC router, and electronics.

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Our library offers essential workforce development via direct support such as job coaching, including real-time interview practice, full-service resume review, skills building and a writing lab.

It also offers free access to dozens of self-paced classes to learn new skills, upgrade existing skills and earn certificates and high school degrees. Through Boulder Reads, adult learners can get GEDs to go and work for small businesses.

Having more libraries — and greater access to libraries — leads to a more educated workforce in the community, which is good for business. Thriving cultural assets – such as arts, libraries, and parks – are also a big part of what draws businesses to the region.

An educated workforce helps a business's bottom line, and the long term benefits of a library greatly outweigh the short term costs. It's a good investment to make for the community. Read more about the impact of the district on local businesses via our blog post >>


When is NoBo branch being built?

The current construction plan for the NoBo branch is slated for 2022. Delays due to construction costs are causing the library to cut down on the initial design, which included a makerspace, community kitchen, and playground.

City and planning board delays resulted in the project going to bid post-COVID, and if you’ve done any home improvement projects lately, you know that the costs for materials are extremely high right now as a result. This is impacting the overall scope and budget of the development.

In order to give Boulder the library it deserves -- which should include green building standards, a makerspace, community kitchen, and playground -- the voters must approve a library district, which would provide the funding needed to complete the project as designed.


What is a corner library?

Corner libraries are the way the library can test the waters and see what the demand is for a fully established branch in the community. North Boulder is an example, which established a corner branch in 2014 and is now (via a dedicated tax approved by voters as well as other gifts and investments) slated to expand to a full branch in 2023 (although stable funding such as that provided by a library district will be needed to fund the operation of this branch long term).

Corner libraries do incredibly mighty lifting as community centers and gathering spaces -- the NoBo corner branch is one of the busiest spaces in all of North Boulder.

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Corner libraries can conveniently bring books right into your neighborhood from other locations and save you the trip downtown to drop them off. They can offer literacy classes, Spanish classes, storytimes, and all sorts of community activities. Many people plan their outings around corner libraries - they might visit the library, bike to the cafe, stop at the grocery, etc. This creates a greater sense of community and belonging.

Corner libraries, like all neighborhood libraries, are not only community centers but economic drivers as well. It would be amazing to have one in Gunbarrel, Niwot and other outlying areas!


Where would a Gunbarrel branch be located?

We are a long way away from constructing an actual building that the library would own in Gunbarrel. So, renting will come first in whatever available commercial space is offered. Typically, the library negotiates free or very low cost leases because it doesn’t have the money for rent or to buy land, and because commercial property owners perceive value in having a library branch because it draws people who then visit and shop at nearby businesses.

Ideally, the location would be in Gunbarrel Center in close proximity to other things like the grocery, cafes, bus lines, and etc. After a district is formed, the decision for its location would be up to a library board of trustees, some of whom could be representatives from outside the city borders. That could be you!


Why not just charge people to use the library?

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.