In a 1986 election, Jefferson County voters approved a mill-levy of up to 3.5 mills to be used only for library purposes. This voter-approved levy is separate from the County general levy and other County levies. In 2009, the Board of County Commissioners (BCC) decided to lower Jefferson County Public Library’s (JCPL) mill levy by 0.2 mills, an amount equivalent to about $1.5 million/year. They did so in a manner that we believe is contrary to the law. Here is what Colorado Library Law says in discussing property tax levies for library purposes:
“All moneys generated for library purposes … shall be used only for library purposes…” [C.R.S. 24-90-112 (2) (a)]
In 2009, the County Commissioners said:
BCC Chairman, Commissioner McCasky, November 23, 2009:
“…we are considering shifting a portion of the Library mill levy in order to meet this increase in demand on our social services programs”
Commissioner Kathy Hartman, November 24, 2009:
“…I support reducing the Library mill levy by 0.2 mills ($1.5 million) and increasing the Human Service mill levy by the same amount”
In doing so, the Commissioners then told the Library Board:
“The Commissioners are encouraging the Library Board to use their reserves and NOT cut services” and “The Board of County Commissioners is urging the Library Board NOT to reduce service, but to use their reserves to maintain the current service level.”
After the Library Board worked exhaustively to come up with a sustainable budget and determined they would have to reduce staff and cut services (by closing Mondays), the BCC reacted not only with indignation, but in reprisal they appointed three new Library Board members, including one of themselves, Commissioner Hartman. Hartman’s very first official motion as a Trustee was an attempt to overturn the Library Board’s policy decisions with respect to the budget. Perhaps “encouraging” and “urging” were not quite what the BBC intended.
These actions, combined with other unfair and irresponsible behavior toward the Library in recent years, finally caused many of us to say, “Enough is enough.” We created and circulated a petition, authorized under the Colorado Library Law, to convert JCPL from a county library to a library district [C.R.S. 24-90-107(3)]. Colorado Library Law gives the Commissioners exactly two options:
“Upon receipt of such petition, the legislative body or bodies shall either establish the library by resolution or ordinance, in accordance with subsection (2) of this section, or shall submit the question of the establishment of a public library district to a vote of the registered electors…” [24-90-107(3)(d)]
Functionally and administratively, the Library would remain exactly as it is. But the mill levy would be changeable only by the Library Board of Trustees, not the BCC.
The County Attorney came up with what she believes is a way for the Commissioners to circumvent this law: They voted to “opt out” the entire county, including JCPL, from any such district. They used a provision of the law that allows a municipal library, such as Westminster to “opt out.” Our legal counsel believes not only is this contrary to Colorado Library Law, but it is a clear attempt to thwart the will of Jeffco voters.
In 2008, the Library Board was asked by the Commissioners to investigate the process, and pros and cons of forming a library district. The Library Board reached a clear recommendation to proceed with the conversion. When the County considered all the services it performed for JCPL, and for which it was paid handsomely, the Commissioners voted 2 to 1 to decline to create a library district. When the Library Board solicited bids for those same services from the private sector, JCPL stood to save about half a million dollars a year.
In their resolution to circumvent the petition, the County Commissioners estimated that, between the loss of access to a chunk of the Library’s mill levy and the loss of revenue from services performed for JCPL, converting to a district would cost them $2.5 million a year. This is one important reason a district is needed. First, the bulk of that money is rightfully the Library’s, from its own mill levy. It just means the County could no longer divert those funds for other purposes. Second, if the County loses money for services, it does not have to perform those services.