Old opponents in library debate team up to back tax hike | AspenTimes.com

Old opponents in library debate team up to back tax hike

Scott Condon

A group that successfully fought a proposal for a new midvalley library last year is now working to convince voters in November’s election to support a property tax increase to operate the existing facility.

Citizens for One Library sunk thousands of dollars into the campaign last November against a proposal to build a new library in El Jebel and remodel the existing one in Basalt. Several influential Basalt-area residents headed that effort.

Voters overwhelmingly rejected the library district’s proposal.

The political action committee officially disbanded after last year’s battle but many of its members made good on a promise to help the library try to secure additional operating funds, according to Diane Schwener, who helped organize Citizens for One Library.

“We weren’t against the library. We opposed that particular plan,” Schwener explained.

Many of the people who were foes last year are library supporters this year because they believe the facility has been scraping by for too long on inadequate revenues, she said.

The library is asking residents of its district to increase the property tax from 0.92 to 2.06 mills on Nov. 2. That would produce a total tax revenue of about $550,300 for the library or slightly more than double the revenues anticipated for the current year.

A citizens’ group called Launch the Library Campaign Committee is working for approval of the ballot question. Schwener is co-chair of the committee. Other people who fought last year’s library ballot question who are helping work for approval this year include Jim Kent, Jim Light and Charlie Cole, according to Schwener.

Launch the Library’s campaign material notes that the Basalt Regional Library has one of the lowest mill levies of any library in the state. This is the first request it has made to increase the property tax in 24 years.

Robb Heckel, who became the library director earlier this year, said the facility is in dire need of greater revenues to do a better job of providing core services ” like more copies of best sellers, a greater number of more modern computers and software, important data bases for students’ research, and modern releases of videos, DVDs, CDs and books on tape.

Without an infusion of operating dollars, he anticipates the need to close an additional two days per week. If the tax increase is approved, the library would be able to stay open six days per week, as it is now, Heckel said.

The library is understaffed with one full- and five part-time employees, Heckel said. He said seven to 10 full-time employees are needed to adequately staff the existing library and offer the amount and quality of service he thinks the constituents deserve.

Increased revenues would also allow the library to make basic repairs and improvements, like adding new chairs, installing adequate heating and cooling, and fixing leaky toilets.

The library’s board of directors and citizens such as Schwener still believe voters must be approached again in the next few years for funding to build a new facility. They are still working on a proposal to determine where the new library should go.

Heckel said money won’t be wasted on extensive or extravagant repairs to the existing facility ” given the goal is to move into a new facility soon.

This year’s proposal would raise property taxes by about $9.07 per year on each $100,000 of home value, according to Launch the Library. A house with an actual value of $300,000 in the eyes of the county assessor would face a tax increase of $27.21 per year, the group said.

“It always comes down to money,” said Heckel. “This seems to me to be a modest request. It’s not like we’re asking for the moon here.”

Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com