Basalt Regional Library hoping to improve ‘Third World’ facility
What a difference a year has made for the Basalt Regional Library.Last year the library district was seeking funds from voters to build a grand new facility in El Jebel.That effort failed, so this year the district just wants an increase in operating funds so it can do a better job at its existing facility in Basalt.”We really have an outdated library,” said Robb Heckel, who became director of the facility six months ago.Funding for a new library was buried by voters at the polls last November. The library district sought the ability to borrow $5.1 million to build a new facility and spruce up the existing one. It lost by a 60 percent to 40 percent margin.The library district hasn’t abandoned plans to eventually build a new facility. “It’s something that’s still going to happen but it’s going to take some time,” said Heckel.In the meantime, the library district will concentrate on making the existing facility better. Heckel, the library’s board of directors and several patrons contend a property tax increase is needed to boost the district’s operating revenues from about $260,100 to $550,300 annually. The district is asking voters to increase the mill levy from 0.92 to 2.06.The property tax increase would amount to about $9.07 annually per $100,000 of assessed value, or about $27.21 more annually on a house with an assessed value of $300,000. The increase in funds, Heckel said, wouldn’t bring “frills” or “bells and whistles.” It would just allow Basalt’s library to offer services that are standard elsewhere.Or, as library district board member Bruce Gabow said, “We are starting out at such a pathetic level.” He compared the library to a Third World country that’s attempting to modernize, although he stressed that the staff does a stellar job.The library was prepared to close on Mondays this year until patrons raised $25,000 to keep it open. If the ballot measure fails, the library will be forced to close two additional days per week. If it passes, it will remain open six days per week. It’s always closed on Sundays.Heckel said the closure isn’t meant to be a threat. It’s simply reality.Extra operating revenues could also eventually allow the library to be open for longer hours. Heckel said his staff of six part-time employees currently must cover 52 hours per week. Additional staff would be hired with additional funds. Once the library “regroups,” hours may be added, he said.Heckel said his intention isn’t to merely maintain library services but vastly improve them, particularly in the area of technology. He would increase the number of computers for patrons from three to six and upgrade to more modern equipment.Heckel’s passion is to teach classes designed to improve the “information literacy” of students and other patrons. He wants to offer classes that show what databases are available electronically.Many people don’t realize that the library already offers some subscription databases. He wants to add “as many services as fit into the budget.” Students could be the big winners.”Parents seem to feel everything is available on the Internet. That’s simply not true,” said Heckel.Unlike last year’s election, when the library faced strong opposition from high-profile Basaltines, no organized opposition has materialized this year. Nevertheless, library backers aren’t assuming the election will be a cakewalk. Gabow said he feels the library has the support from the downtown core but still must reach people in west Basalt and the El Jebel area.Gabow and Heckel agreed backers must also reach voters who don’t use the current services. Gabow said the library must show it can do something more than offer books to check out. Heckel said he’s trying to tell people that a library can be so much more – offering services from books on tape and CD to classes on a variety of topics and the subscription databases.The Basalt library issue is question 4A on ballots.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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