Guest opinion: Please support our libraries and museum
October 25, 2018
I was honored when I was asked to participate on the Citizen Task Force formed by the Moffat County Board of County Commissioners earlier this spring. The letter inviting me to be a part of this task force spoke of a possible tax increase as an outcome. Of course, this concerned me.
I had many questions as to how the county got into the position it currently is in. The participants in the meetings included business owners, ranchers, former elected officials, government workers, and retired citizens. Our group was diverse.
We learned the libraries and museum are solely the responsibility of the county. Prior to 1984, the city and county co-funded the library. It was my understanding that the city didn't want to assist in funding the library for whatever reason. The county, at that time, realized then, as it does now, the library is a valuable asset and resource in our community. Therefore, they committed the funding to ensure we all had a library to use, which I used many times as a child growing up in Craig.
The mediator to the citizen task force was a member of the George Baum Consulting Agency. We were able to ask questions and request whatever information that was relevant to what we were discussing. If the majority of the group wanted statistics from the commissioners on trends, revenue, etc., we received that information at the next meeting.
We learned what services the libraries and museum provide. I was astonished by the number of people who use the libraries and museum on a daily basis. I believe just in the month of April, there were 6,000 visitors who used the library in Craig. The museum is nationally acclaimed and world-renowned. They have tens of thousands of visitors come through their doors every year. There is so much history about Moffat County that it would be a shame to lose.
The commissioners outlined how the county receives money. I don't think many people know that the county's only sources of income are property tax and sales tax. We learned where the county made cuts and how much those cuts were, which amounted to $1.7 million for 2018. They had to make some hard decisions. You're not going to please everyone. They did what they felt was in the best interest of the county. Whether you agree or disagree with their approach, they had to do something. They did it and stood by their decision.
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The Citizen Task Force discussed many possibilities for generating more revenue for the county without having to raise anyone's taxes. We even took a vote approximately three meetings in as to whether to propose a mill levy increase. We unanimously voted against it. We told the commissioners at that meeting to meet with the city, since it is a stakeholder. We believed it has a vested interest in these entities.
We met with the city, and it was apparent the city was unwilling to help the commissioners, the county, this community — your community — with the situation. All I left there with was that the city would be supportive of a mill levy.
The task force came back realizing there were no other options. I can honestly say we never went into this task with the idea of a tax increase. I feel the commissioners wanted to hear what ideas we had to learn if there were other ways to increase revenue.
At this time, it was decided a mill levy was the only option to save the libraries and museum. The consensus of the group was to start working toward a levy increase.
I believe it is time to stop finger-pointing or blaming the commissioners. Placing blame is not going to solve the problem. The county is in a financial crisis and turned to the citizens for help. The commissioners are in a no-win situation. If they didn't reach out to the citizens before closing the libraries and museum, they would have been scorched. Yet, they reached out to find solutions, and they are still blamed to wanting to raise our taxes.
They have to make tough decisions. They are making what they believe are the best decisions for the county, whether you agree with them or not.
The commissioners are not driving this. We are — the few of us that are left are driving this, because we care about the libraries and museum.
This mill levy takes control away from the commissioners and puts it squarely in the hands of you and me, not the commissioners. The county cannot create a new department or buy a new grader with this increase. The funds must be used to fund the libraries (Craig, Maybell, and Dinosaur) and the Museum of Northwest Colorado. There is no comparison to the city sales tax increase.
If something doesn't happen, the libraries and museum are in serious jeopardy of closing within the next year. I would encourage you to read the ballot and vote "yes" on 1A.
Doug Winters is a Moffat County resident and a member of the Citizen Task Force, which was formed earlier this year to brainstorm ideas that might help the county with its funding difficulties, particularly with regard to the library and museum.