By Mark Browning
After recent Town Board and town meeting presentations about the Lyons Regional Library District, several inquiries have been received about details of the proposed tax to fund the library district. This article will attempt to clarify the situation.
Prior to the flood, the Library District Board of Trustees certified ballot language setting a maximum of 5.85 mills of taxing authority to fund the district. That amount (which could not be changed after submission) was selected because it was slightly less than average for similar-sized Colorado library districts. It was also projected to be enough to pay start-up costs (election costs, plus hiring accountants and attorneys), to fund interim library operations and to pay for initial phases of building a new library/resource center (final site review and acquisition, hire architects).
The 5.85 mill level would have produced an estimated $385,000 in annual revenue for the district. It would have translated into about $140 of annual tax on a $300,000 house and about $280 on a $600,000 house.
The flood changed things. Now, instead of primarily focusing on a new library/resource center, trying to keep the Depot library operating became a top priority, with Town of Lyons funds likely unable to continue operations at anywhere near the pre-flood level. So the District Board decided to take another look at both the amount of taxes and how they could best be used.
The Library District board recognized that everyone in the district had been affected economically, but it was especially concerned about people who had lost their homes or suffered serious damage to them. After consulting with the Boulder County Tax Assessor’s office, it was determined that those with seriously-damaged homes would receive pro-rated tax relief, effective September 12, 2013, by having their property re-valued downward to reflect flood damage (For those in such situations, contact the Tax Assessor’s Office at 303-441-3530 for details or apply for a tax revaluation online at www.bouldercounty.org/assessor.
The Library District board decided to go further, however. Although most tax jurisdictions set tax rates in December each year, the Library District board at its September 28 meeting decided to go ahead and set the 2014 tax rate. The 5.85-mill level was always a maximum, not a fixed amount, so the board cut the proposed 2014 level in half: 2.925 mills. That equates to $70 in tax on a $300,000 property, or $140 on a $600,000 property.
If voters approve Ballot Issues 4C and 4D (ballots go in the mail on October 15), the library district’s income is likely to be $180,000 or less (because of revaluations for damaged properties). That is projected to be enough to pay district start-up costs plus relieve the Town of the financial burden of running the Depot library on an interim basis. A new library would need to be delayed, though that longer-term goal would not be abandoned.
The need for the library district to possibly step in and run the Depot library is related to the Town of Lyons’ dire budget situation. In addition to the enormous cost of paying Lyons’ share of massive infrastructure repairs, the Town budget will be adversely impacted by lost sales tax revenue from business interruptions and closures. The Town may not be able to fund the Depot library at prior levels (about $100,000 per year). If library district funding is approved, the district can relieve the Town of the financial and administrative burdens of operating the library (which will be available to all area residents, not just Town of Lyons residents).
Details of transferring library operations from the Town to the district depend on (1) the result of the upcoming vote, and (2) an inter-governmental agreement among the district, Town and Boulder and Larimer Counties. If Ballot Issues 4C and 4D do not pass, then the Town will be left to its own, limited resources in dealing with the library.
The Depot Library did incur some damage from the flood, primarily to carpet, flooring and sub-flooring. Efforts have begun to obtain grant funds for repairs, in addition to insurance and FEMA funding. The building can be repaired. But funds to operate a library are in short supply if the library district is not funded by Ballot Issues 4C and 4D.