Moffat County commissioners file intent to place museum, library mill levy on November ballot | CraigDailyPress.com

Moffat County commissioners file intent to place museum, library mill levy on November ballot

Community Task Force member Doug Winters requests that Moffat County commissioners place a mill levy question on the November ballot to fund the Museum of Northwest Colorado, Moffat County Libraries and, possibly, Loudy-Simpson Park, during a meeting in June.

CRAIG — The Moffat County Board of County Commissioners has filed intent to place a measure on the November ballot that would create a mill levy dedicated solely to the Museum of Northwest Colorado and Moffat County Libraries.

According to a July 16 letter from Moffat County Attorney Rebecca Tyree to Moffat County Clerk and Recorder Lila Herod, "… the Moffat County Board of County Commissioners is requesting to participate in the November 2018 election regarding a ballot issue for voters to approve an increase in the mill levy to help support the Museum of Northwest Colorado and three public libraries, which are located in Moffat County."

A subsequent news release from the BOCC stated the filing of intent comes after commissioners received feedback from a group of representative county residents — dubbed the Community Task Force — through the course of several meetings held during the first half of 2018. The meetings laid out Moffat County's current financial picture, future projections, and steps that have already been taken by commissioners to align the county's budget — steps that include deep cuts to the budgets of both the museum and the library.

"We were able to reduce our 2018 budget by $1.7 million, including a reduction of 10 county employees, but there's still a lot to do in order to prevent depletion of county reserves going forward," according to a joint statement from the BOCC.

Though this $1.7 million reduction represents one of the largest single-year budget cuts in the county's history, commissioners said there are still a number of scenarios, both positive and negative, that will begin to play out the next 5 to 10 years, creating uncertainty.

Complicating the county's financial puzzle, the cuts to the museum and library budgets were substantial and could, some fear, lead to the eventual closures of both if new sources of revenue are not identified.

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In a May interview, Museum of Northwest Colorado Assistant Director Paul Knowles said the cuts — which reduced the museum's annual budget by about $100,000, or 47 percent — have removed the "foundation" that allows the museum to continue.

Museum Director Dan Davidson said the museum was able to gather some reserves when it was still receiving mineral lease funds, which dried up about 2012. But now, he said, it is tapping those reserves in the face of county cuts.

"The minerals allowed this museum to become a recognized museum," added Knowles. "So the minerals were really just icing — a lot of icing — on the cake, but the county provided the cake."

Likewise, the Moffat County Library, while not in immediate danger of closing, is also feeling the pinch.

During a June 11 meeting of the Moffat County Library Board of Trustees, Director Sherry Sampson said the cut to the library's budget — also amounting to about $100,000 — has necessitated the elimination of two part-time positions and a supervisor's position, as well as a cut in hours for remaining part-time employees at the library's branch locations.

She added that the Craig branch of the library is now closed Friday mornings, and once school begins, she said, Wednesday mornings may also have to be eliminated.

Board of Trustees Chair Alman Nicodemus offered praise for Sampson's efforts to trim costs, but feared that, soon, potential cuts will become increasingly difficult to find.

"I think Sherry's done a good job making cuts in response to requests from the commissioners," Nicodemus said. "But soon, there won't be anything left to cut."

Neither the museum nor the library receives funding from the city of Craig.

The county commissioners, meanwhile, say that, while they remain committed to needs-based budgeting, the prospect of losing the museum or the library is not acceptable.

"The last thing the commissioners want to see is the loss of our county's most treasured assets while we weather the current financial storm," commissioners wrote in their joint statement. "This ballot measure is intended to protect a couple of the assets that not only help define our community, but that can assist in achieving our ultimate goals."

They clarified that these ultimate goals are to attract new investments, businesses, and residents to Moffat County, while retaining existing assets and services.

"Without the amenities that define us as a community, our mission of attracting more investments into Moffat County becomes harder," added Commissioner Ray Beck in the news release.

And both the museum and the library are significant attractors.

According to the BOCC news release, 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 also up more than 17.5 percent, to more than 114,000, since 2013. It currently has more than 8,200 active cardholders.

The proposed ballot measure would see the museum and library continue as departments of Moffat County, however their funding would come solely from the new mill levy, effectively removing both from the county's general fund and freeing additional funds for other county services.

"Keeping those entities under the umbrella of Moffat County allows for significant cost savings when it comes to employee benefits, insurance, accounting, etc.," Beck said in the release. "This, in turn, creates the lowest tax burden possible for our constituents."

In a subsequent interview, Beck stressed that the proposed ballot measure should not be seen as a silver bullet that will completely address the county's budget challenges, but he acknowledged it would help.

"We've got to figure out ways we can mitigate this budget," he said. "This is not a fix-all."

According to Beck, members of the Community Task Force are in the process of analyzing the needs of both the museum and the library and developing numbers for the mill levy.

"I hesitate to talk solid numbers at this point, but it sounds like it will be very much in line with the budgets of the museum and the library," Beck said.

Moving forward with the ballot measure will require commissioners to meet several deadlines.

Beck said commissioners must have a signed intergovernmental agreement with regard to the ballot issue in place with the Clerk and Recorder's office by Aug. 28.

The ballot must be certified by Sept. 7, and the deadline for filing pro or con comments regarding the issue is Sept. 21.

Contact Jim Patterson at jpatterson@CraigDailyPress.com or 970-875-1790.