Backers of a mill levy proposal to restore former funding levels to run the six-branch Garfield County Libraries system are, in essence, seeking a return to normal and stability going forward.
The proposed 1.5 mill levy increase — before county voters this fall as Question 6A — would generate $4 million annually to make up what’s been a $2 million annual drop in revenue since 2015, and a downward slide that’s been going on for the past decade.
It would also provide a more stable source of funding to help ride out the occasional ebbs and flows in existing funding, backers say.
If approved in the Nov. 5 mail ballot election, the new tax would be used to restore library hours to previous levels, including earlier weekday morning and Sunday hours, keep facilities well-maintained, retain and boost staff, and bolster the purchase of new library materials, according to supporters.
Ballots for the fall election are to be mailed to registered voters at the end of this week, and are to be returned by 7 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 5.
According to the Garfield County Assessor’s Office, the additional tax would cost a residential property owner in Garfield County an extra $10.80 per $100,000 of assessed value. And, a commercial property owner would pay an extra $43.50 per $100,000 of assessed value.
No organized opposition has formed related to the library proposal, but Garfield County Libraries Executive Director Brett Lear knows any tax proposal is a tough sell.
That’s why he and members of the tax campaign committee have been out drumming up endorsements and making the case to individual voters across the county.
“Just with the cuts in hours, that has limited the community’s access to the libraries,” Lear said. “A lot of our users have service jobs in Aspen, and these expanded hours would bring back some of that access to libraries to a lot of families.
“And, Sundays are when families can go to the library together,” he said.
The library district is currently funded by a portion of the county’s sales tax and a dedicated property tax mill levy.
Over that past decade, sales taxes have dwindled in part because of a court-ordered refund and subsequent withholding of sales tax distributions to the county. The case involved oil and gas companies that were determined to have been erroneously assessed sales tax on certain hydraulic fracturing materials.
Compounding the drop in revenue was a decline in oil and gas production in general in Garfield County, which has impacted the library district and other property tax-dependent entities.
Bottom line, revenues are not keeping up with the costs of programs and services offered by the six branch libraries in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale, New Castle, Silt, Rifle and Parachute, Lear said.
The library district’s current budget is $1.9 million less than it was 10 years ago, and cuts in recent years have reduced staffing levels, as well as morning, evening and weekend library hours.
“We also have 100 fewer educational classes and events for children each year than we did just a few years ago,” he said.
Recently, the library district obtained endorsements from two local school district boards, Garfield Re-2 and Roaring Fork Re-1.
Other organizations that have signed on in support, according to the tax campaign, include the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association, Literacy Outreach, Raising a Reader Aspen to Parachute, and the Rifle Regional Economic Development Corporation.