Editorial: Cost versus benefit
Cost–benefit analysis is defined as a systematic strategy to compare the potential benefits of a certain course of action to the costs associated with taking that action. One of the main applications of this technique is to help decide whether an investment or decision is sound by determining whether its benefits outweigh its costs, and by how much.
In November, we, the voters of Moffat County, will be faced with a major decision that could reverberate far into the future: Should we support a dedicated mill levy that would fund operations at Moffat County Libraries and the Museum of Northwest Colorado?
The situation boils down to this.
Moffat County is facing significant financial challenges, and during the past two years, county commissioners have tried to meet those challenges by taking extraordinary steps to trim costs, including cuts of approximately $100,000 each to the library and museum operating budgets. These cuts have prompted both institutions to take equally extraordinary steps to continue operating.
The museum is now tapping its limited reserves to supplement operational expenses, and according to museum Assistant Director Paul Knowles, at the current rate of consumption, the institution has less than two years worth of reserve funds remaining. Once these reserves have been exhausted, the museum’s future is uncertain, at best.
As for the library, Director Sherry Sampson and the library board have undertaken a number of cost-saving measures, laying off some workers, reducing hours for others, and cutting hours of operation at all three of its county branches. During a meeting of the board early this summer, directors lamented that identifying further cuts would be “challenging.”
The mill levy, if approved, could end the financial struggles for both entities.
It is estimated the increase would generate up to $1.2 million annually, money that could only be used to fund operations at the library and the museum. The funds would be divided proportionally between the two entities, with 64 percent going to the library and 36 percent to the museum. According to Knowles, the estimated dollar amounts would equate to roughly $400,000 per year for the museum and $700,000 per year for the library.
That’s the situation. So, what are the costs associated with approving the mill levy?
If approved by voters, the ballot measure would enact a 2.85 percent mill levy dedicated solely to the library and the museum and would cost a property owner with a $200,000 residence about $41 per year, or $3.42 per month. For the owner of a business valuated at $200,000, the increase would amount to about $165 per year, or $13.75 per month.
Those are the costs. What are the benefits?
If approved, the measure will ensure both the library and the museum are able to continue operations, prospects that will otherwise fall into serious doubt.
According to a recent news release from the Moffat County Board of County Commissioners, the museum hosts an average of 12,000 visitors each year, with more than half that number coming from outside Moffat County. It is listed as the “#1 Thing to Do in Craig” by Trip Advisor, was ranked among the six “Top Original Museums” by the Colorado Tourism Board, and was recently named at the top of “15 Museums Not to Miss” by True West Magazine.
The Moffat County Library includes three branches — in Craig, Maybell, and Dinosaur — and reported nearly 83,000 visits in 2017, an 18.5 percent increase from 2014. Its circulation of all print materials is up more than 17.5 percent since 2013, and it currently boasts more than 8,200 active cardholders.
It is neither our objective nor our place to tell anyone how to vote on this issue. Each voter must make that determination for him or herself. We also recognize — and appreciate — the general objection to any new tax, particularly in our depressed economy.
But, in our view, we must ask ourselves if the museum and the library are worth keeping around, and if they are, how much are we willing to pay to keep them around.
We must decide.
These days, it seems there are too many taxes on every ballot to say “yes” or “no” to, so we must make choices, and our choices must be informed by facts. Our choice now is, “Are the library and the museum important, and, if so, is their continued existence worth the asking price?”
If so, we encourage you to vote “yes.”
The choice is — and remains — yours, but the results of that choice will resonate far into the future. Please, fully weigh the costs versus the benefits before you make it.