Library: Tax increase years overdue |

Library: Tax increase years overdue

Eben Harrell
Toddlers and moms listen intently to librarian Susan Keenan during story hour at the Pitkin County Library. Aspen Times photo/Mark Fox.

The Aspen residence of Dickens, Melville, Shakespeare et al. is in need of a bit of sprucing up, and it’s up to local voters to help them.So say the Pitkin County librarians, who are asking for a property tax increase on this year’s ballot to help Aspen’s library. The ballot question asks for a mill levy increase of .23 mills, or $1.83 per $100,000 of property value. If it passes, the increase will bring an additional $385,000 to the library’s operating budget of approximately $2 million.The money will fund three and a quarter more employee shifts, eight new computers for accessing the Internet, and a new radio wave detection system for tagging books. Pitkin County librarian Kathy Chandler says the money is at least four years overdue.

“When our last tax increase was approved we said we wouldn’t ask for more for another eight years. It’s been 11 years now,” Chandler said. “We are understaffed and we need help.”Chandler says the library’s usage has grown at a much higher rate than its staff. Since 1979, circulation has more than tripled while the staff has only doubled in size. If the tax increase passes, the library will use the money and new employees to install a state-of-the-art radio tagging system for its books. As well as decreasing incidents of theft, the detection system helps the library’s cumbersome shelving process – the radio tags are sophisticated enough to alert staff when a book has been shelved incorrectly.

Once the tags are installed – a two-year process – Chandler says the librarians will have enough free time to open the library an hour earlier, at 9 a.m.The library is asking for the tax increase despite having around $3.3 million in its coffers. In 1997, an Aspen visitor from El Paso, Texas, left Pitkin County Library $2.8 million in her will. The same year an Aspen resident left nearly $1 million.Chandler said the library is committed to preserving the money. She said the money will be used for the planned expansion of the library to the east, which is expected occur in the next 10 years. Also, interest and revenue from investment of the reserve provides a needed windfall each year.

“We could just dribble the reserve away, but we’d like to use the money to generate income. We have plans for an expansion in 10 years, and this money is integral to that.”The library’s current mill levy is 1.31 mills, which generates around $2 million annually. The proposal is marked Referendum 5A on the Nov. 2 general election ballot.Eben Harrell’s e-mail is