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Durango School District expected to fund branch libraries for one more year

Voters may be asked to increase taxes in November
Libraries that operate in Sunnyside and Fort Lewis Mesa elementary schools will be preserved through June 2020 with funding from Durango School District 9-R. Two community groups are working on a proposal to increase property taxes for the libraries in the future.

Satellite locations of the Durango Public Library at Sunnyside and Fort Lewis Mesa elementary schools are expected to stay open through June 2020 thanks to funding from Durango School District 9-R, but the long-term fate of the libraries is uncertain.

District 9-R provided about $100,000 for staff to run the branch libraries after La Plata County commissioners cut funding for the libraries from the 2018 budget.

School district funding was scheduled to run out in June, but it is now expected to be extended through June 2020, Durango Library Director Sandy Irwin said.

The school board must still approve the funding for the library staff as part of its budget, said Julie Popp, district spokeswoman.

Irwin

The school district funding will give two groups formed by concerned residents time to ask voters to raise property taxes to keep the branch libraries open long term. The property taxes would fund a new library district that would pay for staff and cover other costs, she said.

Rural residents interested in saving the libraries see value in the materials, meeting space, high-speed internet and programming the libraries provide, Irwin said.

“Those are things you can’t get elsewhere all the time,” she said.

Children in school particularly benefit from access to the libraries in the summertime, said Roy Horvath, a member of the group working to save Fort Lewis Mesa Library.

“We feel like it’s really beneficial in terms of continuity,” he said.

The groups working to save the libraries, Fort Lewis Mesa Library Advocates and Sunnyside Library Community Supporters, have important specifics to work out before putting a measure on the November ballot, Irwin said.

The groups need to finalize the boundaries of a potential new library district and the amount of the property tax increase needed to fund the district, she said.

The two groups have discussed forming one district to serve two geographic locations to eliminate the need for duplicative management, such as two boards, Horvath said.

A potential district could need a maximum of about $200,000 annually through property taxes, Irwin said.

The groups want to ensure a property tax could cover unforeseen costs and potential growth, in addition to current staff positions, Irwin said.

“They need to be prepared for the inevitability of being charged for something that was free before,” she said.

For example, the new district may need to cover the cost of rent, wireless internet or janitorial services in the future, she said. Currently, the school district pays for those costs.

The new library district would also need to contract with the city of Durango for services it is already providing, such as human resources, health insurance and management, Irwin said.

If long-term funding for the two libraries cannot be found, the spaces would no longer be open to the public. The materials for teenagers, adults and young children would also be eliminated, she said.

In 2018 at Fort Lewis Mesa Library, 7,378 books, CDs and other materials were circulated or used in-house. At Sunnyside, an estimated 4,390 materials were borrowed or used by visitors, according to library data. During the same period, Durango Public Library circulated an estimated 390,000 materials, according to the city of Durango budget.

Tough work remains for both volunteer groups, but the new library district could offer long-term stability for the branch locations, Irwin said.

“It’s taking a step that is really difficult,” she said.

mshinn@durangoherald.com

An earlier version of this story erred in saying funding for the branch libraries was certain. The Durango School District 9-R board has not yet approved spending on the branch libraries.

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