Library district desperate for revenue
After dealing with a plummet in revenue this year, the Garfield County Library District isn’t yet out of the woods. And the library board is still considering asking voters for a property tax increase, possibly on the 2018 ballot.
The libraries have suffered as property tax revenue tied to oil and gas production has slumped, and it’s the libraries’ user and staff who have felt the pinch. Early this year the library board started openly talking about asking for a tax increase, though it wasn’t clear at that time what funding mechanism it should pursue.
At the end of 2016, the library board announced that it would see a drop in revenue for 2017, about 30 percent of its annual operating budget, prompting layoffs of staffers, a slashed budget for buying new books and DVDs and tightened hours of operation.
Total income for the library district dropped from about $6 million in 2016 to about $4.7 million for the 2017 adopted budget. The 2018 proposed budget anticipates revenue staying pretty flat, at just less than $4.8 million, leaving the branch libraries with about the same income levels.
“In 2018, the library district expects to be at its lowest funding level since it started collecting property taxes in 2008 — prompting the board to consider new options to replace the revenue we have lost over the last 10 years,” said director Jesse Henning. Those 10 years of steady revenue decreases have brought on a lot of these issues, like the reduced hours and staffing shortages. “It’s really pushing the library district out to its limit,” he said.
“Unfortunately, the story of your libraries also exists with the reality of constantly declining funding. A predicted $1.2 million decrease in property tax revenue for 2017, in addition to persistent sales tax refunds, forced the libraries to make tough decisions — cutting the number of books and DVDs we buy, reducing hours, and undergoing cuts to administrative and front-line staff positions,” Henning wrote in the district’s annual report.
Open hours at the branch libraries have been cut by 26 percent compared to 2016, and the budget for new materials has been cut by 50 percent. The branch libraries have had a dozen “emergency closures” when a staffer can’t or doesn’t show up for work and the library can’t operate, Henning told Garfield County commissioners Monday.
The vast majority of the library district’s funding comes from property tax and sales tax.
“The decrease in funding is directly tied to the decrease in oil and gas development activity in Garfield County and low sales tax collections coupled with ongoing sales tax refunds as part of the 2011 Noble Energy settlement with the State of Colorado,” Henning wrote.
A good chunk of the library district’s revenue is also undermined by sales tax refunds. Much of those refunds has gone toward repaying Noble Energy. In a lawsuit Noble Energy argued it had been erroneously paying Garfield County sales tax on fracking materials. And a 2010 settlement has since required refunds and withheld sales taxes from Garfield County entities that would otherwise pocket that revenue.
The library district has been budgeting $100,000 annually that it will have to refund, but it also doesn’t have any assurances that will be enough. In 2016 the refund came out to $134,000. Neither have the district’s administrators been able to get a clear answer from the state when these refunds payment will end, said Henning.
“In the five years following the settlement, sales tax refunds have removed $2.1 million in funding from your libraries,” said Henning.
On a brighter note, the board has recently made an offer to a prospective branch manager for the Parachute library, which has been running without a manager for the last year. Having a long-term staff vacancy at any branch comes at a high cost to the community, said Henning. When there is a long-term vacancy, every staffer has to be there or the branch has to close for the day, “which is really a position we don’t want to be in.” The libraries are always operating on “the knife’s edge” of that threat, said Henning. Once the Parachute position is filled, the libraries will be fully staffed for the first time since Henning assumed the director’s position in October 2016.
Commissioners recommended that the library board and administration watch the upcoming election closely, particularly a proposed tax supporting local museums and historical societies, to gauge the temperament of taxpayers.