Garfield County library cuts lead to layoffs, reduced hours
Some Garfield County Library District staff will be laid off starting Tuesday, and hours at the six branch libraries will be reduced as of Wednesday as the result of a $1.2 million decrease in operating revenues for next year.
“All throughout the valley, organizations are going to see these types of cuts because they are seeing the same decrease in property taxes,” said Jesse Henning, the recently named executive director for the Garfield County Public Library District.
The drop is due to a 45 percent decrease in oil and gas activity in recent years, which is just now being reflected on the tax rolls. The resulting $1.2 million decrease in library revenues represents 30 percent of the district’s operating budget.
Exactly how many layoffs will be necessary won’t be fully determined until Tuesday when libraries will be closed for the day, Henning said.
Cuts in library hours and services are being tailored to the needs of each of the six communities served by the district, he said. The new hours for each branch are outlined on the library district’s website, at http://www.gcpld.org.
The district’s board of trustees announced the cuts in an open letter to library patrons Monday. In addition to the layoffs and reduced hours, the district is also cutting its library materials budget by 50 percent, meaning longer wait times for new books, electronic books, DVDs and other items.
“You may notice fewer public Internet-access computers at our branches as well,” the board advised in its letter, as the district looks to reduce its IT costs.
“In spite of these challenges, the library management team, staff and the board of trustees have worked together to create and approve a balanced budget for 2017,” the letter continued. “Reaching this balance, however, will require your libraries to make tough changes.”
The property tax-related cuts come on top of $2.18 million in lost sales tax revenues over the last five years due to ongoing state withholding related to the Noble Energy settlement. State courts determined that oil and gas companies had been erroneously paying sales taxes on sand, chemicals and other materials used in hydraulic fracturing, triggering an initial refund and ongoing withholding due to follow-up claims.
“We are still subject to that, and the claims period remains open per the settlement,” Henning said.
Library district operations benefit from a mix of revenues, including a dedicated 0.25 percent portion of the county’s 1-cent sales tax, and a 1-mill property levy approved by county voters 10 years ago.
The property tax was intended to pay for new library facilities in each of the county’s six municipalities, from Carbondale to Parachute. After the last of the capital projects was completed, a portion of the property tax not needed to pay off the construction debt was dedicated to library operations.
The property mill levy was expected generate about $3.4 million for the library district this year, but will drop to about $2.2 million next year.
“We are tightening our belt just like everybody else who is affected by this, and that will mean a change in some of our services,” Henning said. “We just want to let folks know that we are trying to make due with the resources we have.”
Meanwhile, over the last 10 years since the mill levy was approved and the special library district created, Garfield County libraries have seen a 93 percent increase in books and other materials being checked out, and an increase in library visitors from 303,535 to 653,420, the board notes in its letter.
Libraries have also added 26,861 new library card holders.
“The coming years will be a trying time for your libraries,” the letter concludes. “While we remain dedicated to our mission — connecting our communities to a world of possibilities — we will need your help and support more than ever as we develop a recovery strategy for the future.”