Southwest La Plata County residents formed a new library district Tuesday to save the Fort Lewis Mesa and Sunnyside libraries.
Residents formed the Southwest La Plata Library District and approved the accompanying 1.5 mill property tax on a tight margin. The Yes votes won the race 52.1% to 47.9%, or 882 votes to 811 votes.
Library district advocate Cynthia Loebig sighed with relief talking about the final vote.
“This is such great news. ... It’s an exciting opportunity to take local control of these community resources and make sure they are providing the services that people want,” she said.
The ballot question asked voters to both form the district and increase property taxes in a single question to keep the issue simple.
The new district was needed because La Plata County cut funding to the two rural libraries after declines in revenue from oil and gas property taxes. For the last two years, grant funding from Durango School District 9-R has helped keep the libraries open, but that funding is expected to run out in June.
A group of concerned residents decided to ask voters to form a district to preserve services the libraries provide, including access to books, internet service, meeting space, after-school programs and other materials. The new district expects to work with the community to develop the libraries’ programs, materials and technology offerings, Loebig said.
The new mill levy will generate about $437,215 annually for the libraries. As a result of the vote, the taxes on a $300,000 house will increase by about $32 annually. The district is expected to start collecting taxes in 2021.
Residents had planned to start collecting taxes in 2020, but they missed the deadline to inform the La Plata County Assessor’s Office of the potential new district, Loebig said previously.
The district expects to take out a loan to keep the libraries open until the tax revenue can be collected, she said.
La Plata County commissioners are expected to appoint new board members to lead the district Tuesday, Loebig said.