The decision is made: Bayfield’s Pine River Library will pursue another mill levy increase in a ballot measure this November, asking community members for support one more time.
La Plata County commissioners approved the Pine River Library’s ballot measure Tuesday, which proposes a 1.5 mill levy increase to fund the library.
In 2018, the library proposed a 2 mill increase, or about $450,000 in total additional revenue, and the measure lost by nine votes. Facing continuing financial difficulties, the library board members agreed that they either had to ask voters for more money or reduce services.
“We kept coming back to the fact that we had lost by such a small margin,” said Abbie Wiler, board of trustees president. This spring, as board members discussed voting to go forward with the measure, “it became more of a decision of when to do the vote than if we were going to do the vote.”
The library currently receives almost $562,000 in property tax revenue. The proposed mill levy increase would add about $337,000, making the library’s total property tax revenue almost $900,000.
For a homeowner of a $325,000 home, current taxes are $4.83 per month, or $58 per year. If voters approve the ballot measure, those taxes would increase by $2.92 per month – to a total of $93 per year.
“When you think that the average cost of a fiction book is $26 and of a DVD is $15, the library can be seen as quite a deal!” wrote Executive Director Shelley Walchak in an email.
The library does not receive federal or state funding. While staff can apply for grants, the library’s funding comes primarily from property tax income – and most of that comes from the steadily declining oil and gas industry in the county.
When the industry was healthy a decade ago, the library received around $1 million from property tax revenues each year, 44% more than its current revenues. This year, the board of trustees said that it can no longer supplement the library budget using reserve funds, Wiler said.
If the ballot measure fails, it could result in even fewer hours, affecting students after school, and more staff cuts. The community might lose access to some current programs or services. For example, last year, the budget shortfall led to library closure on Sundays, which has been a “hardship” for families, especially young families, said Cathy Enns, project manager for the mill levy campaign. Staff members have faced smaller program budgets, and the library lost staff positions in budget cuts.
Some library district residents who opposed the measure in 2018 said some services weren’t necessary for the library to provide or that they don’t often use library services.
Enns said district residents who don’t live within the town of Bayfield receive library services. They can download books and audiobooks or use community “bookshelves” operated by the library in Vallecito and Forest Lakes.
“For people who live farther out, my message to them is it doesn’t mean that you can’t avail yourself of library materials, and staff is here to show people how to do that,” Enns said. “If you’re not a library user, I would ask people to consider the impact on the total community.”
If the ballot measure passes, the library could continue its current level of service, which includes helping job-seekers prepare resumés, providing a community space for veterans and seniors, and offering educational programming for kids to adults. The library could potentially restore Sunday hours, Enns said.
The next steps are to work with the county clerk to finalize the legal aspects of the ballot measure. For the campaign, the plan is to make the pros and cons of the ballot measure clear to voters, she said.
“If the public is willing to give us more revenues, we can continue the staff and services that they have come to expect,” Wiler said. “But if they’re not, then we have to drastically cut back.”