Pitkin County scrutinizes Basalt library budget
December 7, 2011
ASPEN – A proposed Basalt Regional Library budget for 2012 that requires dipping into reserves to cover about a $70,000 deficit raised the brows of some Pitkin County commissioners Tuesday.
The library’s executive director, Kristen Becker, and several members of the library’s board of directors gave commissioners an overview of the facility’s current and proposed budgets as a courtesy. County commissioners have no say over the library’s finances but do appoint three members of its board.
Next year’s budget will dip into reserve funds, Becker said, and if property values within the midvalley library’s district don’t stabilize or rebound, the board might eventually have to seek an increase in its property tax levy. The library has sufficient reserves to cover expected deficits through 2015, she said.
Commissioner Jack Hatfield questioned that approach, and other commissioners agreed.
“Why don’t you cut back your services to a degree?” Hatfield asked. “I just don’t know if it’s fiscally responsible.”
“I’m very uncomfortable, personally, working with a deficit budget,” said Becker, who recently agreed to a reduction in her housing stipend and benefits package after her compensation package came under fire by some in the community.
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In response to the library district’s financial outlook, its board of directors cut hours of operation and laid off three staffers a year ago, Becker told commissioners. It planned to cut hours even further last summer but added instead hours back into its budget in response to input from some members of the community.
“There is a small, vocal group – a very small, vocal group – that has pressured the board into making some changes that were not necessarily supported by the board,” said board member Taylor Liebmann, head of the library’s Finance Committee, siding with Hatfield’s stance.
What was to be about a $31,000 shortfall grew to $70,000 to add back some hours of operation and bump up spending on the collection of resources at the facility, Liebmann said.
Commissioner Rachel Richards urged the board to look ahead and figure out how it will respond if property values continue to drop in the midvalley. Becker said she’s heard predictions within the real estate community of another 10 to 15 percent drop in residential values.
Asking for a hike in the mill rate that funds the library district if property values drop again will be difficult, Richards predicted.
“You may be setting yourself up to have a vote when you can’t win one,” she said. “I just don’t think that’s prudent planning.”
The library board is scheduled to review the 2012 budget on Monday.
On another note, commissioners briefly discussed the county’s appointment of members to the library board of directors.
In the past, the board advertised positions, interviewed candidates and recommended them to both Eagle and Pitkin County commissioners for appointment. Pitkin County will now advertise the positions it oversees, and commissioners will interview candidates. Richards, however, described the new approach as a part of a broader move the county is making to address its appointment process rather than a response to a call from some residents for more diversity on the library board.