The La Plata County Commissioners responded to public concern about the fate of two county libraries Wednesday, and announced they will be fully funded.
During a budget meeting, Paris Kindall, a fifth-grader, delivered a petition with 100 signatures supporting satellite libraries at the Fort Lewis Mesa and Sunnyside elementary schools.
Her signatures brought the total number of comments on library funding to about 200, the most on any county issue in the last few years, County Commission Chairwoman Julie Westendorff said.
Commissioners asked for public feedback earlier this year about the relevancy of rural libraries, and they received an outpouring emphasizing their importance via email and at public meetings.
Two other students, Lily and Leland Longan also addressed the board about why the libraries should stay open.
Peeking over the podium, Leland, a fourth-grader, told commissioners it would be hard to find books without the Sunnyside branch library.
“I would like to keep the Sunnyside library open because I am a big reader,” he said.
The county commissioners have had to make cutbacks in recent years, but Finance Director Diane Sorensen told the public, property-tax revenue is projected to rise in 2015.
Rising prices for natural gas are projected to drive an 8.7 percent increase in property-tax revenue up to $17.20 million from $15.82 million.
The overall budget is expected to expand just more than 7 percent from about $71.81 million budgeted for 2014 to about $76.93 million in 2015.
This will allow the commissioners to fund major capital-improvement projects, fund merit raises and continue to grant $250,000 to nonprofits.
The county received 23 requests for nonprofit funding this year, and commissioners already have selected top candidates for funding.
However, several nonprofit representatives came forward to make their case at the meeting, and among them was the new regional American Red Cross director, Eric Myers.
The commissioners previously had decided not to grant the local chapter the $7,000 it requested, after it merged with the office in Grand Junction on Nov. 1 and the director left the office.
Westendorff said she had hard questions for Myers because the former director filed an application for funding, and since then, Red Cross has had no communication with the board.
“It looks to me like you’re closing down services here,” Westendorff said.
The merger decision was made in early October, and it was not something that the local offices had much time to plan for, Myers said.
However, he assured the board the Red Cross still planned to train volunteers locally to respond in disaster situations.
“You don’t need employees to go out and deliver services,” he said.
The organization planned to reach 1,000 people locally this year through educational programs on preparing for a disaster.
The Red Cross office on Main Avenue will be staffed this year with an AmeriCorps Vista volunteer who will spend 40 hours a week helping to build connections within the community and develop volunteers to help run the programs. Two other volunteers also spend 30 hours a week staffing the office.
The commissioners did not make any decisions about funding nonprofits during the meeting.