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Jeffco Library again explores establishing an independent district

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By Vicky Gits

The trustees of the Jefferson County Public Library discussed in a preliminary way at the Oct. 18 monthly meeting the possibility of resurrecting a campaign to establish an independent library district.

The board agreed informally to authorize executive director Pam Nissler to begin to collect information on what it would cost to operate the district, which is now under the supervision of the Jefferson County Board of Commissioners.

Nissler said the senior management group would be ready to present its conclusions sometime in the spring of 2013.

The Jeffco Library could be deemed an independent entity by a majority vote of the county commissioners or by a vote of the taxpayers in a countywide election.

Becoming an independent district appeals to the organization as a possible way to solve its budget problems and continue to provide the same or higher level of services by benefiting from the current 3.5-mill tax levy authorized by voters.

Board members present were Ruth Anna, John Bodnar, Ray Elliott, Linda Rockwell, Brian DeLaet and Julia Hill-Nichol.

Board chair Rockwell said the library is paying the county more than its fair share of administrative costs and the move would be a way for the library to put itself in control of its own destiny and save money.

A resolution to establish an independent library district was defeated by the county commissioners in 2008. 

“The library’s funding has been cut to the point they can’t cut anymore,” said Tom Atkins, who leads Save Jeffco Libraries, a group that tried unsuccessfully to put an independent district on the ballot in 2011. The group filed a lawsuit in February 2011 to force the commissioners to put the issue before the voters but ultimately lost the case.

The soonest the question could be on the ballot would be November 2013, Atkins said.

“The library law allows the county commissioners to create the library district by resolution. If they do that, we wouldn’t need to do anything, and we would be delighted,” Atkins said.

“We want to restore at least the funding that the library already had," he said. "Right now the problem is the library has cut its levels of service at all libraries and is the lowest of any of the Front Range counties at 51 hours per week. (Arapahoe, Douglas and Fort Collins are in the mid-60s.) In order to do that they have laid off 26 FTEs. They have now cut their staff and their overhead to the point they can’t cut anymore. Even for 2013 they can’t balance the budget.”

Trustees have repeatedly expressed concern they will have to take money from reserves to balance the budget in 2013.

The library is authorized to obtain a potential maximum tax levy of 3.5 mills. The levy was 3.225 mills for 2012. The commissioners increased it to 3.425 for 2013, but they also took away the vehicle ownership tax revenue, which more than offset the mill levy increase.

The library's proposed 2013 budget contains a shortfall of about $456,464 on total operating revenues of $24.2 million.

If the library were an independent entity, the vehicle tax revenue would come back by law, Atkins said.

None of the commissioners could be reached for comment.

Contact Vicky Gits at vicky@evergreenco.com or 303-933-2233, ext. 22. Follow her at Twitter.com/newsbyvicky.