Here we are in 2012 facing the reality of reduced library services in order to manage a “sustainable budget”. I haven’t given you an update since our lawsuit was dismissed and I want you to know we are still alive and kicking!
JCPL’s Senior Management Team has indeed done an outstanding job cutting their operating expenses down to match the projected 2012 revenue of $24,627,711, down just about $1M from the 2011 revenue of $25,647,207. These revenues represent a property tax levy of 3.225 mills and the loss of revenue from 2011 to 2012 is due entirely to lower property assessed valuations, a problem faced by all levels of county government.
I have no problem with this and I think the library management and staff as well as the patrons of JCPL are willing to tighten their belts in these tough economic times. Let’s face it – we are very lucky to have experienced only an average four percent drop in assessed values. Think about libraries in Florida and Arizona!
What I do have a problem with is that revenues in 2008 were $27,765,529 at a tax levy of 3.425 mills. What happened to THAT two million dollars? As I’m sure you know by now, that money was “shifted” out of the library’s voter-approved tax levy starting in 2010 by the Board of County Commissioners in order to plug holes in their own budget.
THAT’s what I have a problem with. Jeffco voters approved that tax levy in 1986, up to 3.5 mills to operate the library, not as a slush fund for the Commissioners to use as they see fit. In fact, that voter-approved 3.5 mills should serve as a cushion to help the library through economic hard times. But no – that cushion has been “shifted” from the library and is now comforting the heads of our County Commissioners.
Let’s be clear about why we are seeing service cuts at the library. About a third of these cuts is due to our tough economy. We can live with that. But two thirds is due to the County Commissioners blatantly taking money out of the library’s tax levy. In my view, that is a slap at the taxpaying Jeffco voters who have said they are willing to pay for their library services.
So does JCPL have a “sustainable budget”? Sure – to the extent that ANY budget is sustainable if you cut enough services and lay off enough staff. But you can’t define sustainability for the library when you can’t depend on its revenue – while we have County Commissioners who are willing to use the library’s tax levy as a fungible source of County revenue.
In the meantime, all the library can do is cut its operating expenses, such as:
- Staff reductions of about 14 FTEs (on top of last year’s reduction of another 14)
- Hours of service reduced to 51 hours/week at full-service libraries, down from 63 hrs/wk before Mondays were closed.
- Books and Materials budget reduced
- Staff training budget slashed
These cuts strike at the core of the Library’s mission. How much will they matter to Jeffco patrons? I guess we’ll find out. At the January board meeting, the only public comment was from a woman who wanted to know whether she could make a cash contribution to help restore hours of service. It’s important to her.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. As an independent library district, the tax levy we voters approved for library services would be under control of the Library Board of Trustees and right now we wouldn’t be facing these service cuts and staff layoffs. THAT would be a sustainable budget.
A piece of good news I have to report is that the County’s attempts to circumvent our petition by attacking the Library Law has induced other libraries to offer their support. As a result, Save Jeffco Libraries’ legal team has been bolstered with services donated by other Colorado libraries. We are extremely gratified by this assistance and it gives us confidence that we stand ready to meet any further legal challenges.
I want you all to know that we are committed to seeing JCPL’s revenue and policies protected by becoming an independent library district. That’s the only way the library will ever be able to operate on a sustainable budget. We are not giving up and we need your help. This effort may be simple but it’s not easy. Together, we can prevail.
It’s up to us!