Library board delays request for mill levy

Moffat County Library Board members agree that this November is too soon for them to seek independence from the county, but most think the idea is a good one and are considering eventually asking voters for a separate mill levy to support and enhance library services.

The board met in April with city, county and school district officials to discuss the concept.

Since then, a committee has been formed to further investigate the feasibility and to begin discussions on a community education campaign.

"There's a big education process we need to do within the community," board member John Ponikvar said. "We have a year to work on it."

Early discussions set the November 2005 election as the target date.

Political controversy and budget constraints prompted the board's original discussion. After Moffat County Commissioner's forced the library board to spend down its reserve by cutting its operations budget, board members started searching for methods to gain financial autonomy.

Moffat County appropriates a portion of its 20.991 mill levy to the library system. The library's portion was decreased from 2.053 mills to 1.5 mills in 2004, forcing the board to dig into its reserves for operating funds.

"Our philosophy has always been, if the roof leaks, we'd like to be able to fix it," board President David Longwell said about the library's healthy -- and growing -- reserve fund. "In the real world if you have a little money left over, it's a good thing."

Under consideration is a 3- to 4-mill levy, which would generate up to $1.1 million.

The lower end would be used to sustain existing services, while the top end would enhance them by allowing for more books and better equipment and giving the library the resources to remain open seven days a week.

"I think we can do 3 mills, 4 mills would be more comfortable," Ponikvar said. "Right now, we're working on justifying it to ourselves."

The purpose would be to form a political subdivision -- different from a special district in that the board is appointed rather than elected.

Preliminary figures indicate that breaking free from county funding and forming a political subdivision would cost the library nearly $400,000 more than its current budget.

That increase is attributed to higher insurance costs and the need to hire personnel to handle bookkeeping and payroll. The library also would have to hire a full-time maintenance person and pay for all employee benefits.

Expenditures for books and community programs also would be increased.

"There are board members who believe it's viable and some who don't, but it's worth looking into," Longwell said.

The commissioners, who originally endorsed the library's attempt to seek its own funding source, now have another philosophy to ponder.

At the Colorado Counties Inc., meeting Wednesday in Snowmass, discussions on budgeting techniques favored the philosophy that counties shouldn't assign a specific mill amount to go to a specific fund -- something the county does for the library, hospital and jail. Instead, all funds should go to the general fund and then be appropriated to each department from there.

"That's something we'll discuss for our 2005 budget," Moffat County Commissioner Les Hampton said.

He said he supports the library seeking its own funding source.

"If they had their own mill levy, then they wouldn't be drawing monies from the general fund, and that would relieve the general fund of that burden," Hampton said.

The library board will meet June 21 to discuss the committee's activities and goals.

Christina M. Currie can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 210 or ccurrie@craigdailypress.com.

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