For the first time in 22 years, the Wilkinson Public Library (WPL) will be going to the voters this Election Day to ask for a .75 mill levy. At Wednesday’s meeting of the San Miguel Board of County Commissioners, the board voted unanimously to have it officially placed on the ballot. The board oversees the library’s special district.
The library’s director, Sarah Landeryou, said the decision to go to the voters was “tough.”
“We mulled it over for a couple years,” she said.
The increase of the .75 mill levy is meant to offset decreasing revenues that have been occurring as a result of the Gallagher amendment, which was adopted in 1982. That amendment to the Colorado constitution requires that the portion of residential property that is subject to taxation (called the "assessed value") drops when residential property values statewide grow faster than nonresidential properties. It has hampered the revenue-building abilities of numerous special districts, including the county’s sanitation district and the Telluride Fire Protection District. Each of those districts went to the voter last election asking for — and receiving — additional mill levies from the electorate.
The increased mill levy, if approved by voters, will cost the taxpayer $5.36 per year for a home assessed at $100,000 or $21.44 per year for a home assessed at $400,000, according to a fact sheet created by library staff.
Landeryou said library patrons have expected top quality services from the five-star library, a designation it’s received for over 10 years from the Library Journal. But funding has not kept pace with the demands of top-level services the library offers.
“Costs are going up,” Landeryou said. “We’d like to continue doing great things here.”
The last time WPL officials went to the voter was to put a bond on the ballot for a new building in 1997. According to Mary Jo Schillaci, who serves on the library’s board of trustees, that bond has been paid off. Landeryou said with ownership, comes uncertainty.
“There is economic uncertainty and we’d like some security,” she said. “There’s building upkeep and programs to maintain. We’re looking to build a stable future.”
Schillaci painted a picture of WPL’s economic situation.
“Board members discussed going to ballot last year along with the other districts, but thought there was a possibility that the state would take action on a Gallagher long-term solution,” she explained. “There however was no state consensus on a long-term solution. The Telluride Library District has shown deficits since 2014 and has been under-spending budgets, sometimes due to attrition, in order to stay within revenues.”
Schillaci said the Gallagher amendment reduced revenues by more than 10 percent. That’s $400,000 shaved off revenues over eight years.
“In 2021, the district will be in deficit spending and this request to the community for .75 of a mill increase will allow the library to provide services that the community expects and deserves,” she said.
The ever-changing technological landscape has meant that the library has adapted at great expense, according to their fact sheet.
“Our library strives to provide excellent service to the community but given the current structure of taxation at the state level,” the release reads in part, “our funding is not keeping pace with needs at a time when the costs of operating the facility are increasing.”
Landeryou said library officials have been judicious with the money they receive.
“We do save,” she said. “We are careful.”
Staff costs and being able to provide living wages is another area of concern for library officials. As with many area employers, there are challenges in providing wages that allow workers to “live in the community they serve,” the release noted.
The bottom line, Landeryou said, was to continue providing services at the level the community expects and to provide for the maintenance of the aging building.
“For the most part the community loves the library,” she said. “It’s an inclusive place where everyone can come and they are welcome.”
The ballot measure will receive a ballot designation by the San Miguel County Clerk’s office after Sept. 6.