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Library district considering tax increase request

Declining property revenues could lead to $200,000 budget shortfall
The Julian Quartet performs Wednesday at the Pine River Library. The quartet is part of the faculty at Southern Methodist University in Dallas and is performing in the area as part of Music in the Mountains.

The Pine River Public Library District is facing the potential of a $200,000 shortfall in 2019.

Director Shelley Walchak and members of the library board made a "state of the library" presentation on Tuesday night, laying the groundwork to ask for a property tax increase from district voters.

The library board has used the district's reserve fund to keep the budget balanced for the past three years, Walchak said, adding "this is not sustainable."

The district has worked hard to obtain grants, winning $514,000 in funding in the past five years, but these are typically for special projects, such as the new library park or computer upgrades.

Grants typically can't be used for library operations, which covers employee salaries and benefits, as well as books and library programming.

The district expects to take in $541,000 in revenue from property taxes in 2017, down from $707,000 in 2016, after bringing in as much as $1 million in the past, Walchak said. The combination of reduced oil and gas property taxes, as well as Colorado's Byzantine property tax laws, is bringing down the property tax revenues rapidly, she said.

Walchak said she has been asked why the library built the new park during a budget shortfall, but 87 percent of the cost was paid for by grants, she said.

In the meantime, library use is rising considerably, with 753 programs offered in 2017, attended by 15,173 patrons, and more than 122,000 visits to the library.

The library has not requested new taxpayer funding for 19 years, she added.

The library now has to ask voters if they want to increase funding or face considerable cuts in staffing and programs.

For a $300,000 home, a proposed tax increase would cost a property owner $54 a year, or $3.58 a month.

"We have some very hard choices to make," said Abbie Wiler, the president of the library board.

The district has seven full-time staffers and eight part-time. Without the property tax increase, the district might have to cut its staff in half, Walchak said.

With Bayfield Intermediate School opening this fall up the street "we are only going to get more children in the library," she added. "I would never know where our teens would go after school without the library."

The library board has sent a letter notifying the county clerk of the intent to ask for a property tax increase on the November ballot. The board is scheduled to take a final vote on the proposal on Aug. 15.

The library district has about 9,500 residents in its boundaries, which are the same as the Bayfield School District, and includes Forest Lakes and Vallecito as well as Bayfield.

A campaign committee of volunteers is planning to run a campaign to urge voters to vote yes.

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