Tackling misinformation about Measure 6C, again

As we move closer to voters weighing in on creation of a Boulder Public Library District, opponents of the measure, led by Boulder City Council Member Bob Yates, continue to share misleading, incorrect, and unsupported information - despite being provided ample evidence to refute their claims.

Tackling myths about the library district ballot issue 6C

This installment of our myth-busters blog series comes as a result of several easily debunked claims in Yates’ recent email newsletters. 

If you have questions about the claims being made both in favor or in opposition to the Library District proposal (Ballot Measure 6C), please email [email protected] and we will happily provide you with source materials and other information to support or debunk them. 

Claim: “The city currently spends $9.2M to operate the library system. The proposed $19 million new library property tax is double what the City now spends on the library” 

false The cost to operate the library is about $17M/year. Opponents have repeatedly published the $9M falsehood, despite being corrected by City Finance staff on multiple occasions. The increased funding provided by the proposed property tax is actually about $2M. As the Daily Camera editorial board said on 9/25/2022:

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 table below was presented to the City Council in a February 8, 2022 memo and presented again on April 5, 2022. This slide from the April 5th meeting can be seen at the 1:22:15 minute mark in the meeting video. On September 22, City Finance staff presented a slide with costs broken out slightly differently, but adding up to the same range.

Table showing the costs of running the Boulder Public Library




Claim:Under the proposed 2023 budget, the library’s funding will grow by 21%… [alternatively]… the 44% increase in funding...

falseCouncilmember Yates further states that this increase is one "that my council colleagues and I have provided the library during the seven years I have served on city council [...] By comparison, the police and fire budgets are going up 4% and 6%, respectively.”

Mr Yates uses percentages based on apples-to-oranges comparisons to claim “big increases” without explaining what those “increases” really mean. And, while it's weedy, it's important to know what these numbers actually refer to. 

  • The 2023 proposed budget restores the library to its 2019 pre-pandemic level. This base budget includes costs for staffing, collections and ongoing operations, and is the starting point for each year’s internal negotiations over the next year’s budget). Adjusted for inflation, the 2019 budget was equivalent to library funding in 2002. That's where the library is returning to, in 2023.

  • The 2023 proposed budget includes just over $1 million to complete the interior build-out of the new NoBo branch (scheduled to open sometime in 2023). This is a one-time allocation of dollars - it is NOT an ongoing increase. But Bob is counting it as one. 

  • The 2023 proposed budget (and every library budget going back to 2015) includes $250,000 in community philanthropy provided by the Boulder Library Foundation, which is used to fund 90% of library programs (City accounting protocols show grants from the Boulder Library Foundation as if they were taxpayer dollars). Since 2020, when the city cut the library’s budget by 17%, the Boulder Library Foundation has contributed more than $1.7 million to keep essential programs and services available. BLF is a small foundation which cannot maintain this level of financial support - and the community should not have to rely on philanthropy to provide core library services.

The proposed 2023 budget will not restore hours, allow the library to expand its literacy programs (including more partnerships with schools), allow for greater outreach to underserved communities or raise the books and materials budget to levels comparable with other libraries of our size. It will not provide for a Gunbarrel branch or allow the library to address its crumbling building infrastructure. Most importantly, the 2023 budget allocation does not put the library on a long-term path to financial stability. A library district does that.

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The numbers Mr Yates relied on to get both “big increase” percentages ("21%" and "44%") skew the comparison by including internal shifts in budget accounting (from Library to Facilities and Fleet); one-time capital expenditures for construction of the new NoBo branch; philanthropic donations (counted as if they were tax dollars); and — for 2023 — restoration of the library’s base budget to its pre-pandemic level. The only actual increase to the proposed 2023 library budget is funding to hire staff to operate the new NoBo branch (for which the community approved capital funding in 2016). 

Restoration of the library’s base budget comes 3 years after the library budget experienced the deepest cuts of any city department — and “restoration” simply means the library budget remains at roughly the same funding level as 2002, adjusted for inflation. (In contrast, the budgets for police and fire were fully restored in 2020 and increased in 2022, compared to their pre-pandemic budgets.)



Claim: “This is a proposal petitioned onto the ballot by a group called the Boulder Library Champions.”

DeceptiveBoulder City Council passed a resolution to form a library district on April 5, 2022, after more than 3 years of analysis and discussion. However, the Boulder County Commissioners declined to join the resolution, stalling the library district formation process. The Boulder Library Champions successfully petitioned to put the question on the ballot, using the same terms that Council directed in its deliberations in February and March 2022. 

 

Claim: “If that ballot measure passes, property taxes for Boulder homeowners and businesses would be increased by about 4% (more for those just outside the city limits).” 

DeceptiveThe 3.5 mill property tax would be uniformly applied across all properties within the library district boundary at a rate of 4%.

For City of Boulder residents, the existing city property tax levy of .333 mills dedicated to the library will be repealed following passage of the district in November. This means that the property tax increase for Boulder residents will be somewhat less than 4%, and less than the city’s interactive map of the proposed library district shows. There is no substantiation for the claim that county residents will pay more than 4%. 

 

Claim: “We won’t know before we have to vote whether the city will sell, lease, or give way the library buildings to the new library district… it’s anyone’s guess how the new government entity will be governed… the new government entity would be managed by an unelected board.”

falseLibrary district governance is matter of Colorado state law. The city can choose to retain ownership of library buildings/land and lease these properties to the library district. This is the approach favored by a majority of Council during last spring’s discussion of the library district resolution. Mayor Brockett reiterated this direction at the September 22, 2022, Council meeting. Our library’s assets — the buildings and materials — will continue to be used in the same way they are used today if ballot measure 6C passes. All the buildings will continue to be publicly accessible facilities, and library materials and equipment will be available to patrons just as they are today.

In accordance with Colorado Library Law, the library district will be governed by a board of trustees who are appointed and overseen by the Boulder City Council and the County Commissioners (C.R.S §24-90-108).  Trustee powers and duties are spelled out quite specifically (C.R.S §24-90-109). 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 C.R.S §24-90-109(2).

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By law, library districts are special purpose governmental entities with limited jurisdiction: their only purpose is to operate a library system. 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. 

 

Claim: “What [the library district] would do with this extra money is anyone’s guess.”

DeceptiveNo, it is not "anyone's guess". The official ballot language on the Boulder County website is here. The library district budget is rooted in the most recent Boulder Public Library’s Master Plan, unanimously approved by a unanimous City Council (including Councilmember Yates) in 2018. Specific high-priority programs and services are listed in the language of the November ballot measure. The Daily Camera editorial board summarized these programs on September 25, 2022:

All told the new district would have a budget of roughly $18.7 million. The proposed uses include expanding literacy programs and partnerships with schools to reach underserved students, extending and restoring hours, expanding access to makerspaces like BLDG 61, updating and improving materials and collections, completing necessary maintenance, operating the North Boulder branch when it opens, and building a Gunbarrel branch. 

Most importantly, the financial security provided by the district’s new funding would allow our libraries room to breathe in the present and confidence to plan for the future.

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Ballot language for Ballot Issue 6C:

  • 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;

 

Claim: “But, it will cost us all. A lot.” 

falseA library district would be funded by a property tax of $23/year for every $100,000 of residential taxable value (assessor’s “actual value”). City of Boulder’s interactive map showing what the estimated cost is based on address, here.

  • 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.

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A library district levying 3.5 mills is actually less than in many other communities across Colorado, including notably tax-averse communities such as Douglas County and Colorado Springs. 

Library District (County) Mill Levy

Pueblo 5.889

Arapahoe 5.875

Lyons (Boulder) 5.85

Estes Valley (Larimer) 4.5

Jefferson 4.5

Nederland (Boulder) 4.4 

Douglas 4.0

Pikes Peak (El Paso) 3.934 

PROPOSED BOULDER LIBRARY DISTRICT 3.5

 

Claim: “What will happen to the $9 million (soon to be $11 million) that the city spends operating the library? First, it will take the new government entity at least two or three years to get operational and start collecting its own property tax money. During this transition period, the city will effectively need to “loan” the operating expenses to the new library district (it remains to be seen how or whether this loan will be paid back).”

DeceptiveHonoring promises made last spring, on September 22, 2022 Council and the City Manager began an open and transparent public process to determine how to best reallocate the $9.75-10.75 million per year in General Fund dollars that will be available when the library district is formed. 

Based on preliminary work performed during the Library District Advisory Committee process (October 2021- January 2022), city staff has determined that the transition to an independent library district is expected to be completed by the end of 2024. In the words of City staff:

The district would begin collecting property tax in January 2023; however, there would likely be a lag before the district could operate independently. A part of the negotiation would include any “start-up" loan the City may provide for library-related operations until such time the district was self-sufficient, and services could be transitioned to the new district. 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.” (Memo, “Discussion of options for budget reallocation of library funding if the library district passes - 9/22/2022, p/2.)

Because the library district is an independent governmental body, the City will have no responsibility for any “needs or shortfalls” once it is on its own. This slide is from the 9/22/2022 study session staff presentation 

City slide showing the costs for the district



Claim: “What will happen to the $9 million (soon to be $11 million) that the city spends operating the library?...Second, we don’t know how much will become available, when it will become available, or what other needs or shortfalls might exist when the library is on its own in a few years….this city council cannot bind future city councils. We cannot legally control the new people who will be elected to city council in 2023, 2025, or thereafter. 

falseAs staff and Council discussed in detail in the 9/22/2022 study session, this current City Council — including Mr Yates — will decide how to reallocate these clearly identified funds, which are expected to be available for the 2024 budget year. Staff will begin work on the 2024 budget early in 2023, and this Council will approve the 2024 budget in the fall of 2023. The Council Financial Strategy Committee (on which Councimember Yates serves) will work with staff in November-December to develop prioritized recommendations for use of the freed up funds. The full Council will consider these recommendations and provide direction in January, 2023. Staff will then use that direction to inform development of the 2024 budget during the spring of 2023. 

 

Claim: “I would like to look for ways to continue to increase city funding for our great Boulder libraries.”

DeceptiveAlternative ways to fund the library have been extensively studied since the 1980s. Policy goals, pros and cons around alternative ways to fund the library funding, and the pros and cons of library districts have been a major topic on Council agendas 14 times over the last four years alone. Councilmember Yates has been part of those conversations and has never offered a solution for library funding. Instead, he has put his energy into delay, creating misinformation and obfuscation.

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The 2018 Library Master Plan and the financial analysis performed following adoption of that plan reflect the most thorough and complete analysis of how much it will cost to operate a city department that the city has performed in years. Council took a deep dive into alternative ways to fund the library, and into library district operations and governance on November 27, 2018; February 11, 2020; February 23, 2021; and May 18, 2021.

At the May 18th meeting, based on a recommendation from Councilmember Yates, Council directed staff to continue with the library district formation process, and to form an advisory committee to review key issues that would be in an IGA guiding the transition of library services from the City to a library district.

The Library District Advisory Committee (LDAC) undertook further analysis from October 2021-January 2022, with a report submitted to Council on February 8, 2022. Following review of those recommendations, Council directed staff to proceed with creation of a library district. Council discussed certain aspects of the IGA on March 15, 2022 and passed a resolution to form a library district on April 5, 2022.

 

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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