An informal community group submitted a petition with more than 400 signatures Tuesday to the La Plata County Clerk and Recorder’s Office to form and fund a new library district in southwestern La Plata County that would support the rural libraries in Sunnyside and Fort Lewis Mesa elementary schools.
The new district is needed to preserve the libraries that provide meeting space, internet access and other services to rural residents.
“Those libraries have been very beneficial and are very much needed,” said Roy Horvath, during Tuesday’s La Plata County commission meeting.
Horvath and Cynthia Loebig presented the idea for the new Southwest La Plata Library District to county commissioners and described the community support for it.
Loebig said she found overwhelming support for the libraries while gathering signatures for the petition in June and July. She also had to educate some residents about the dire financial situation the libraries are facing, she said.
“Some of them didn’t event know the libraries were in jeopardy,” she said.
The library district is needed after La Plata County ceased funding the branch libraries in 2018 because its revenue from property taxes has fallen dramatically as a result of the downturn in the oil and gas industry.
In recent years, the libraries’ operations have been funded through Durango School District 9-R, but that funding will end in June 2020.
The newly submitted petition could place a question on the November ballot asking voters in the proposed library district to increase property taxes 1.5 mills to raise $207,165 in 2020 for the district.
The owner of a $300,000 home would pay $32 more in property taxes annually if the measure passed, County Assessor Carrie Woodson said.
The new district could be formed by voters or by the La Plata County commissioners.
Residents supporting the new district have asked La Plata County commissioners to form the district through a resolution. If commissioners formed the district by resolution, it would eliminate the need for residents to consider two questions on the November ballot – one to fund the district and one to form the district, Loebig said.
If commissioners decide not to form the district, both questions could go to voters, she said.
It is likely voters will determine whether to fund the branch libraries in November because residents submitted far more signatures than necessary, said Tiffany Parker, county clerk and recorder.
The petitioners need only 133 valid signatures to place questions on the ballot and they gathered more than 400, she said. Typically, about 10% of signatures gathered are invalidated, Parker said.
Loebig said while she found widespread support for the libraries, whether residents will vote to fund them is a “million-dollar question.”