Tackling myths about the library district, part I

We are re-posting this piece because misinformation needs a response. Small-town politics can be daunting, because there’s often not enough platforms for sharing trust-worthy information about campaigns or issues. In this environment, myths circulate freely. We know not everyone will be on our side, but as critical thinkers - we’re library lovers, after all - we want you to have the background you need to make an informed decision when you vote.

With that in mind, here’s our response to some of the myths we’ve heard about the Boulder library ballot measure 6C (part I):

 

Myth #1: We’re giving away control of our library (selling buildings, selection of trustees)

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This is an emphatic “no” on both counts. Colorado Library Law dictates how library districts are set up and managed, and that includes the sale or lease of buildings and the appointment of trustees. With nearly 60 library districts in the state, we don't even have to look far to see that there are no issues with governance. We can even look within Boulder County: To Nederland and Lyons, which both run library districts. 

On Buildings

In 2022, Boulder City Council agreed that leasing the Main Library in its entirety (building and land) was simpler than creating a mixed ownership relationship. A majority of Council also agreed that long-term leases at nominal cost made most sense for all the branch libraries as well. There is simply no plan to "give away the buildings." 

On Trustees

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 rests with the Boulder City Council + County Commissioners.

A library district’s Board of Trustees would be appointed by its ‘establishing entities’ — City Council and County Commissioners — in perpetuity. That includes the ability to remove trustees, even mid-term, for cause. Library boards may not ‘pick their own successors’, as some skeptics fear. We also tackled this persistent myth in a recent blog post: "Who governs the library?"

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On Buildings

If a library district is formed, Boulder’s library assets will remain in city hands. In a recent blog post we tackled questions about the ownership of library buildings, and the bottom line is: The Boulder Library Champions are unequivocally committed to following the guidance of Boulder City Council on the issue of library buildings and grounds. In 2022, Boulder City Council agreed that leasing the Main Library in its entirety (building and land) was simpler than creating a mixed ownership relationship. A majority of Council also agreed that long-term leases at nominal cost made most sense for all the branch libraries as well. There is simply no plan to "give away the buildings." 

Should the library district pass in November, the details of this arrangement would be finalized by Council and the Library District Board of Trustees in an Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA).

On Trustees

A library district’s Board of Trustees would be appointed by its ‘establishing entities’ — City Council and County Commissioners — in perpetuity. That includes the ability to remove trustees, even mid-term, for cause. Library boards may not ‘pick their own successors’, as some skeptics fear. We also tackled this persistent myth in a recent blog post: "Who governs the library?"

One primary reason that library district trustees are appointed, rather than 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. You have no doubt seen the headlines

Screenshot of a Washington Post article about libraries with the headline: Students lose access to books amid 'state-sponsored purging of ideas'

This is a very real and growing concern for public and school libraries. When elected officials affiliated with political and ideological movements bent on censorship and controlling open access to information have direct oversight over public assets like libraries, democracy is directly threatened. 

 

Myth #2: "The library will close and move east"

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No. This is an unfounded lie. If you are reading this because you heard this somewhere, please contact us and help us find out why such a malicious, untrue rumor is spreading. Misinformation about local issues hurts the democratic process.

 

Myth #3: The library will have enough money to "build a branch every two years"

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No. It's hard to imagine our opponents are using this statement seriously, but they are. It's like saying “My job pays $50K per year so I can build a $100K house every two years.” The library district's proposed budget does not provide it with money to build new branches every other year. Construction costs would be prohibitive, not to mention that the NoBo branch library, breaking ground next year, has taken 35 years to be built.  

Anyone can look directly at the ballot language to see what the library district will fund. The roughly 20% budget increase would provide for costs associated with leasing one single corner library space in Gunbarrel and includes $1.3M annually to address maintenance on existing buildings, which are in poor shape. This maintenance work was outlined as essential — but unfunded — in the current City's budget in the Facilities Master Plan in 2021 (on page 6). Sorry folks, no library branches on every corner. 

 

Myth #4: The district will double the library’s current budget

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No. In reality, it adds 12%, or $2M, to the library’s current budget. 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. 

Just like your household budget includes your utility bill, fixing your leaky roof, your mortgage, your transportation costs, and etc., the full costs of running our library include not only the people and books, but also the cost of building maintenance, IT infrastructure, HR, insurance, risk maintenance, Finance, and Communications. 

The full costs for running our library have been consistently presented and confirmed with City Council in public settings. The official City slide from April 5, 2022 can be seen below and viewed at the 1:22:15 minute mark in this video. 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

Screenshot of a slide from the Boulder City Council presentation on what it costs to run the Boulder Public Library from the 2022 and 2023 budget

Critics who say the library district doubles the budget are simply not representing the true costs of running the library as seen in the slide above, and we encourage them to correct 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."

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The 2023 budget includes the additional $1M needed to staff and stock the new North Boulder Library (as seen in the green cell above), as well as the restoration of 2020 pandemic cuts, bringing the 2023 library budget to $15.48M. The slide above also calculates a $1.3M backlog of deferred building maintenance, bringing the total estimate for cost of running the library in 2023 to $16.78M.

 

Myth #5: The 2023 budget restores library funding

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No, the proposed 2023 budget does not restore the library’s funding. The ‘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. These statements are simply not supported in the budget documentation available to the public, and should therefore be removed from our opponents' talking points. Read more about the 2023 budget here >>

So, 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 $250,000 in philanthropic donations as if they were taxpayer dollars/paid by the City

The biggest issue is that no single annual budget will resolve decades of up and down funding by the City for its libraries. 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 does not solve the library's funding issues.

A chart showing that the Boulder Public Library is operating at 2002 funding levels, adjusted for inflation

Source: https://boulderlibrary.org/library-district/

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The 2023 budget will not restore hours, return the books and materials budget back to levels comparable with other libraries of our size, or allow the library to address its crumbling building infrastructure. 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.

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.

 

Myth #6: The district proposal is a “10%” increase

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No. We don't know where this number comes from, but our opponents are using it without any basis in fact. We don’t want to discount anyone’s economic struggles, but we do want to operate from the same factual basis. The library district is up to a 4% increase across the board, regardless of where you live. For most Boulder residents, it's less than 4%. 

You can decide for yourself what your specific cost will be by using the City's dynamic district map. Just plug in your address and if you are within the district boundaries, you'll get an estimate for the exact cost.

Please note that if you are a resident of the City of Boulder, this map will not incorporate the discount you will receive as a result of the existing .333 mill levy ending if the district passes. As such, if you are are a City of Boulder resident, you should deduct an additional 9.5% from the estimated cost shown on the map. 

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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. This is not the market value of your home, but rather the taxable value as determined by the county (for more on the distinction, check out this explainer).

  • 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. For most office-type spaces, we believe this equates to an additional $0.15 - $0.18 NNN cost per square foot, per year. 

 

Myth #7: A “district” is a risky experiment

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No, it’s not. In fact, library districts are established in Colorado state law and are the most common form of library governance in the state. Nearly 60 library districts are already operating under Colorado laws that govern their establishment, accountability, and funding.

Fort Collins, Colorado Springs, Estes Park, Erie, Greeley, Adams County, Pueblo, Lyons, and Nederland are a few of the regions served by library districts. And the majority of Colorado’s public library cardholders are served by library districts. Here’s a statewide map.

 

Go to Part II >> 

 

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As we get into gear for Boulder library ballot measure 6C to secure a stable funding future for our Boulder libraries, we’ll use this space to cover some of the details on the library district proposal that might be of interest to the public as this campaign moves ahead. Ballot issue 6C to fund our libraries will ensure that Boulder Public Library has long-term funding via a library district. We can't keep our libraries underfunded and closed. It's time to fund our libraries. Learn more at https://www.boulderlibrarychampions.org/. Read ballot issue 6C language here here: https://www.boulderlibrarychampions.org/ballot_language