Tackling myths about the library district, part I

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 proposed library district (part I):

 

Myth #1: A “district” is a new-fangled experiment

It’s not. In fact, library districts are established in state law and are the most common form of library governance in Colorado. 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.

 

Myth #2: The district will double the Boulder Public Library’s current budget

No, the district proposal does not double the library’s budget. In reality, it adds approximately 19.3% to the library’s budget. City staff have consistently reported this number in presentations to the City Council and public. Let’s look closer at this slide from April 5, 2022:

It can be verified in official City staff presentations (the most recent one being April 5, seen clearly at the 1:17:40 minute mark in this video and in the screenshot below).

Screenshot of a slide from the Boulder City Council presentation on what it costs to run the library for 2023

The 2023 budget would include the additional $1M needed to staff and stock the North Boulder Library, as well as the restoration of 2020 pandemic cuts ($700K), 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 properly maintaining the library to $16.78M.

The library district proposal will raise $18.5M per year. Rather than “doubling the budget”, it would represent a 10.2% increase over the 2023 budget, if deferred maintenance were included. However, as deferred maintenance (the $1.3M listed above) is very likely a “wishlist” item and not likely to be funded within the City’s 2023 budget, the district proposal ($18.5M) vs the City’s likely 2023 library budget ($15.48M) represents a 19.3% increase overall. 

 

Myth #3: The district is a double tax on city residents

The double-taxation myth refers to a small existing property tax: Boulder’s City Charter dedicates a 0.333 mill levy to the library, which currently provides ~$1.4M annually for library operations.

A majority of current City Council members have indicated support for eliminating this tax if a library district is created. Both the city’s Library District Advisory Committee (LDAC) and the Boulder Library Champions (your friendly blog authors) have recommended the same.

Because this 0.333 mills of dedicated library funding is in the City Charter, an additional ballot measure will be required to eliminate it. If the existing 0.333 mill levy is eliminated by voters, the effective property tax increase for the district would be lower for city residents - 3.167 mills rather than 3.5 mills (or $21.53 rather than $23.00 per $100K of residential property).

 

Myth #4: We’re giving away control of our library (selling buildings, selection of trustees)

This one 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. 

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 concluded that leasing the Main Library in its entirety (building and land) was simpler than creating a mixed ownership relationship. A majority of Council determined that long-term leases at nominal cost made most sense for the branch libraries as well.

We agree with City Council that a library district should lease buildings from the City of Boulder, rather than assume ownership. 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).

But what about oversight? Here, Colorado Library Law provides for community control. A library district’s Board of Trustees would be appointed by its ‘establishing entities’ - City Council and potentially County Commissioners - in perpetuity. Library boards may not ‘pick their own successors’, as some skeptics fear.

The appointment process provides a degree of ongoing control over library decision-making by elected officials (including authority to remove a member for cause). The powers and duties of Trustees are limited to library purposes and specifically defined by law.

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.

 

Myth #5: The district proposal is a “huge increase”

We don’t want to discount anyone’s economic struggles. But we do want to remind readers that sales taxes - the source of most current library funding - hit low-income residents the hardest. Sales taxes are considered regressive because people with less money generally pay a higher proportion of their income than people with more money.

That said, we think it’s best to lay out the exact details of the funding proposal and let you decide:

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. 

At 3.5 mills, funding would be on the low end compared to library districts in communities of similar size (and with similar 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

 

Go to Part II >>