Library faces myriad of options

Maybe nobody would care if the library closed its doors.

Or perhaps no one would notice if it shortened its hours, cut back on open days or laid off staff members.

Moffat County Library officials will soon have to make some tough choices -- but they're not sure what choice of options will be the most palatable for patrons.

"It's cutting the heart right out of us," said Board Chair David Longwell. "We can turn in our resignation, or do the best we can to service the community until we have to shut our doors. But what's the best option?"

Library officials were informed by county commissioners recently that the board intends to divert .58 of one mill levy away from library funds.

That move would drop the library from its current 1.9 mill levy to 1.3 -- or slash the library budget by more than $177,000.

That cut will only allow the Craig, Maybell and Dinosaur libraries to keep operations going at their current rates for the next 18 months, officials said.

The library board discussed with the public the possibility of at least three options for the future of the library at a Thursday night workshop.

Some options include:

-- Closing the Craig branch of the trio of libraries for a three-month period sometime before the end of 2005.

-- Cutting two part-time library positions at the Craig branch and cutting back to opening the library for 40 hours a week. It's currently open for 56 hours a week. An abbreviated schedule may close the library on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

-- Asking county commissioners to approve a supplemental budget to keep the library open at its current six days a week.

Library officials said they feel they are being penalized for having the only solvent budget in the general fund as they try to balance the county's cash-strapped budget.

But Commissioner Les Hampton said despite the diverted the mill levy, the library will have enough to operate.

"They're going to have ample money left according to the game plan," he said.

County Commissioners have said they are hoping that library officials ask voters to approve a library district.

It's unclear how much an election would further cut into library funds and board members are uncertain if voters would approve funding for the 4 mills it would cost -- especially if the public doesn't believe that the library is in financial straits.

That dilemma begs the question of whether the library board should wait, face the reality of shutting the doors soon, continue until the money runs out, or cut services all the way around.

It also makes library officials wonder if they should act more like governments do, spending much of their budgets every year, so they aren't faced with another mill levy diversion in the future.

Library officials said they were saving dollars partly for repairs such as a new roof at the Craig branch and furnaces, because they foresaw the current budget crunch coming down the pike. Unfortunately, employee raises at the libraries weren't given for these reasons and now probably won't be issued in the near future, said Library Director Donna Watkins.

To date, commissioners haven't made a decision over diverting the library's mill levy, but need to finalize 2004 budget figures by a Dec. 15 deadline.

But what will it take for the community to realize the future of the library is in jeopardy, board members wondered Thursday night.

"I'm not sure if our community is rallyable," Longwell said. "If the community doesn't care maybe we should shut the doors. They might not know how critical this situation is until we do."

Amy Hatten can be reached at 824-7031 or ahatten@craigdailypress.com.

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