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Voters will be asked to create, fund Southwest La Plata Library District

Funding for Sunnyside, Fort Lewis Mesa set to end in June 2020
Voters will asked to form and fund a new library district that would save the libraries in the Fort Lewis Mesa and Sunnyside elementary schools.

Southwest La Plata County voters will be asked in November to create and fund a library district to save two rural libraries.

La Plata County commissioners voted unanimously Thursday to place a question on the ballot to form the Southwest La Plata Library District and increase property taxes by 1.5 mills to fund it. If the question passes, the owner of a $300,000 home would pay an additional $32 annually in property taxes.

Residents collected enough signatures to place a tax increase on the ballot earlier this year. County commissioners planned to form the district by resolution Thursday but did not publish two public notices in time to vote on the resolution, said Cynthia Loebig, an organizer of the new district.

The ballot question ties the creation of the district to its funding, she said.

“Combining the question we felt would simplify the issue,” she said.

The other option was to ask voters to approve a tax increase for the district and the formation of the district in two questions.

The district and taxes are needed to prevent the closure of libraries in Sunnyside and Fort Lewis Mesa elementary schools, which have lost funding from other public entities.

La Plata County cut the libraries from its 2018 budget after the downturn in oil and gas revenues. Since then, Durango School District 9-R has funded the libraries, but that funding is set to end in June 2020.

Without new funding, rural residents could lose access to reliable internet service, meeting space and after-school programs provided by the libraries, supporters of the district said.

In some cases, new residents in southwestern La Plata County can’t sign up for internet service because the infrastructure can’t support new customers, Loebig said.

At the meeting Thursday, commissioners praised residents for taking on the responsibility of forming the district.

“I just really want to applaud you all,” Commissioner Gwen Lachelt said.

If the question passes, the taxes would be collected starting in 2021.

Residents had planned to start collecting taxes in 2020, but they missed the deadline to inform the La Plata County Assessor’s Office of the potential new district, Loebig said.

If the measure passes, the district may take out a loan to keep the libraries open until the tax revenue can be collected, Loebig said.

The tax question could raise $437,215 annually for library operations and maintenance starting in 2021. The district previously estimated the tax question could raise $207,165, Loebig said. But the original estimate did not include revenue from oil and gas operations, she said.

The additional revenue could help the district qualify for a loan to fund the libraries before tax revenue starts flowing in, she said.

If the district decides it does not need the 1.5 mills, it could collect a lower levy, said Roy Horvath, a resident working to save library services.

County commissioners will consider forming the library district by resolution Sept. 20 at the request of residents. If the district was formed ahead of the election, it could take on administrative responsibilities of putting a question on the ballot, Loebig said. But some legal questions about forming the district by resolution and in a ballot question have to be resolved.

mshinn@durangoherald.com

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