Money, not magic, keeps libraries going
I frequently run into people who think they know how libraries operate and what we do. But when I dig a little deeper, I realize that many do not understand how we are funded, and how we are governed. I have to admit, before I started working in libraries, I only had a vague understanding myself. Let me provide you here with Library Governance 101.
There are 114 library jurisdictions in Colorado: municipal libraries, which are a department of the city in which they reside (39 libraries); county libraries, which are a department of their county government (12 library systems); multi-jurisdictional libraries, such as a school and public library partnering together to provide library services (seven libraries); one school district library; and independent library districts, such as Elbert County Library District, which are legally separate government entities. Library districts make up almost half of all library systems, with 55 districts total in the state.
Colorado law has specific provisions for how library districts are funded and governed. A district is formed by a vote of the people it serves, a measure that was passed in 2000 here in Elbert County. At that time, our funding stream, a mill levy assessed on properties and paid through your annual property tax bill, was defined at 2.516 mills. For the average homeowner in Elbert County, that means you pay about $75 per year for library services.
The Elbert County Library District is governed by a five-member board of directors, which is selected through a review process conducted by the current seated board members and officially appointed by the county commissioners. This appointment is the only action the commissioners take on behalf of the district. The library board directs me, as the director, to provide library services throughout Elbert County, and they are responsible for fiscal and policy oversight.
Since the library district relies on property tax for 95 percent of its revenue, as your home value fluctuates, so does the amount of money we have to operate the libraries. With the downturn in home values in 2009 and the slow economic recovery we are experiencing now, the district has seen a significant impact on its budget in the past five years. Our revenue is down 14 percent, or almost $100,000 annually.
One of the most difficult decisions we have to make as the staff and board of the libraries is what services we must eliminate in order to provide the best quality services we can on a shrinking budget. Over the past two years we have reduced hours at all of our locations and bought fewer materials to put on the shelves. We hope that our home values will make a nice recovery, but the board is also planning to ask the citizens to support a mill levy increase in 2015, the first such request we have made since we successfully became a district in 2000.
I hope that you will join me in supporting your libraries and the services we offer to all residents in Elbert County.
Kari May lives in Elizabeth and is the director of the Elbert County Library District. She can be contacted through the library at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit the library at www.elbertcountylibrary.org.