A new district formed to save rural libraries at Sunnyside and Fort Lewis Mesa elementary schools is confident it can keep the libraries open while it waits for tax dollars to start flowing.
The Southwest La Plata Library District was formed by voters in November who approved the district and a property tax to fund the libraries.
The rural libraries had been funded by La Plata County, but that funding was cut after a decline in oil and gas revenue. Grant funding through Durango School District 9-R had kept the libraries open, but that funding is expected to end in June.
The library district is now pursuing additional grants through local and statewide organizations to keep the libraries open until property tax dollars can be collected by the district in March 2021, said Roy Horvath, district board chairman. The district did not notify the La Plata County Assessor’s Office in time last year to start collecting taxes in 2020.
“It’s going to be a lean year for us. But that’s OK, we’ll just ride it through,” said Rebecca Benally, board secretary.
Board members said they expect that when tax dollars start flowing, they will be able to expand the libraries’ collections with new books and DVDs and replace some aging equipment, such as computers. The new mill levy will generate about $437,215 annually for the libraries.
“Having this year when we don’t have money burning a hole in our pocket, we have a better chance to plan smarter with the community buy-in,” said Peter Meisler, a board member.
The new district has already taken charge of the existing materials collection, equipment, supplies and shelving that was previously owned by Durango Public Library, the board said. The materials were transferred to the new district by Durango City Council in December, which made sense because the Durango library didn’t want or need it, Library Director Sandy Irwin said.
Transferring the materials and other properties ensures the new libraries don’t have to restock and helps the new district get started with materials taxpayers have already purchased, she said.
Going forward, the Southwest La Plata Library District will be completely independent from the Durango Public Library because community members were able to gain voter support for the new district, she said.
“I think it’s a real accomplishment of this group to do that, especially during a time when a lot of people are tax averse,” she said.
The library district is also working on an intergovernmental agreement with Durango School District 9-R to continue to operate in the schools and share staff costs, Horvath said.
The agreement is particularly important because District 9-R is considering closing rural schools with low enrollment. The library district is working to ensure that if Fort Lewis Mesa or Sunnyside closed, the library district would have notice a year in advance, he said.
If 9-R chooses to close a school, the library district will find a way to keep the associated library open, even if it needs to move, the board members said. But that is not an immediate concern for them, they said.