The Pine River Library in Bayfield is considering another attempt at requesting a mill levy increase to ease its financial woes.
The library has been experiencing budget issues since 2017 when a dive in the oil and gas market undercut property tax revenues, which fund the library. The area is divided over the issue – almost equally. The library’s last mill levy request in 2018 lost by nine votes. Now, the library board of trustees is trying to decide whether to propose a mill levy increase for a second time.
“We don’t know what to do,” said Ashleigh Tarkington, vice president of the board.
The board does not have to announce a decision until August, said library Director Shelley Walchak. “My suggestion is that they make a decision in July.”
“I think if there had been an overwhelming ‘no’ vote, we would be in a very different situation than we are right now,” Walchak said. For the residents who voted “yes,” “we owe it to those people to try to continue the level of services that we have right now.”
The library is kind of the “pulse of the community,” Tarkington said. Last year, it had 751 new library cards, almost 167,000 visits and about 27,000 computer uses. Library services include educational programming for minors, résumé-building, business planning and more for people of all ages.
“I had no idea how many programs there were and how many people used the library,” before becoming a board member, Tarkington said. “That place is hopping.”
The failed mill levy request proposed an increase from 2.5 to 4.5 mills, or roughly $54 per year for a $300,000 home. If the mill levy doesn’t pass this year, the library district can continue using the reserve fund until 2022 before the library has to make more severe cuts, Walchak said.
At the board’s May 22 community meeting, residents shared opinions on both sides of the issue.
Betsy Romere, who lives within the taxing district, said for retirees living on fixed incomes, a tax increase could be difficult.
“When times are lean, we need to tighten our belts,” she said. “I do not begrudge the library asking for money for their core functions. That library is a great library, but they do many things in the community that are fluff.”
To cut costs, the library has reduced its daily hours, changed its health insurance provider, replaced a full-time position with two part-part time employees, cut last year’s bonus, changed its program services and more. Employees even look for recycled supplies for program materials.
Currently, costs overshoot revenue by $105,000, even with the cuts. Without the mill levy increase, the only way to make up the difference is to cut staff from 16 to seven or eight positions, Walchak said.
Paul Romere, Betsy’s husband who was at the community meeting, voted against the 2018 mill levy increase.
He’d rather see parents pay for programs that cater to minors or have the library pursue other income sources than resort to taxing the district, especially since not everyone uses library services.
“I don’t mind paying whatever for library services, but when it comes to the fact that they want to tax everybody to do that babysitting, I am against it.”
Romere was more in favor of the mill levy increase if the children’s programs were educational, which is exactly what they are, Walchak said.
Josh Joswick, a resident of Bayfield who uses the library, supports a mill levy increase.
“I think people in this community really appreciate the library, and I don’t think what they’re asking for is extravagant,” he said. Paying more for the library through the mill levy is a way to build and maintain the community, regardless of whether the service benefits him directly, he said.
The library doesn’t have many other funding options beyond property taxes. Grants are typically program-oriented and don’t cover operational costs, like staff hours. If Bayfield builds more homes or if the property values increase, the library might see some financial relief. However, even the 100-home development in town won’t increase property tax revenue enough to make a difference at the current mill levy rate, Walchak said.
La Plata County has some of the lowest property tax rates in Colorado.
“The reason we have been so low is because oil and gas has covered us for 20 years,” Walchak said. “In my humble opinion, it’s time to say thank you for having covered us for all these years, but now it’s our turn to step up to the plate.”