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Pine River Library District may ask voters to increase property taxes

Declining revenues could lead to $200,000 budget shortfall
The Julian Quartet performs Wednesday at the Pine River Library. The Pine River Library District’s board of directors may ask voters during the November General Election to increase property taxes to help pay for a budget shortfall.

The Pine River Public Library District faces a potential $200,000 shortfall in 2019, which may mean district voters will be asked to increase property taxes.

The library board has used the district’s reserve fund to keep the budget balanced for the past three years, library Director Shelley Walchak said during a meeting Tuesday.

“This is not sustainable,” she said.

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

Grants typically cannot 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 less revenue from declining natural gas production and 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. Grants covered 87 percent of the cost, she said.

Library use is rising considerably, with 753 programs offered in 2017, attended by 15,173 patrons, and more than 122,000 visits.

The library has not requested new taxpayer funding for 19 years, Walchak said.

The library now must 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, president of the library board.

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

Since the Bayfield Intermediate School opened across the street from the library in the fall, “we are only going to get more children in the library,” she said. “I would never know where our teens would go after school without the library.”

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

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

A campaign committee of volunteers plans to create a campaign to urge voters to support the ballot initiative.

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