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Rethinking Basalt library plan

Public libraries typically are useful and needed community assets, and our own Basalt library is no exception. Like other public facilities (sewer and water plants come to mind), improvements are needed from time to time which require capital expenditures. Taxpayer approval for such outlays based on careful financial analysis and constituent needs is a sign of good community health.

Now comes the Basalt Library Board asking taxpayers to approve a mill levy increase for outlays needed to expand and improve its facilities, as well as cover increased operating costs. While I accept the need for improved facilities, I don’t accept the board’s conclusions about how to meet this need.

First, the proposed plan expands the existing building of 3,400 square feet to two buildings totaling 20,000 square feet, a six-fold increase! On its face, this proposal appears overly ambitious and unwarranted. Let’s examine the board’s thinking.

The “rule of thumb” it is using recommends one square foot of space per resident. That translates into 12,000 square feet, still an increase of better than three times our present facility. Added to this is an extra 8,000 square feet to accommodate anticipated growth in the next 10 years.

While planning for the future is good, does it require overbuilding by 67 percent when population increases are only “guesstimates”? Not all new residents will use the library, advances in computer technology will continue to change library needs for space, and, perhaps most difficult to accept, it is an inflated financial burden for people today that won’t be borne proportionally by people coming tomorrow.

Next let’s examine the numbers that are available to us. District operations and maintenance costs as a result of this plan are expected to increase $875,000 annually. Accordingly, the board is asking for a mill levy increase from .92 to 4.180 mills – up 450 percent!! On top of that is an additional levy to cover $482,700 annual debt service for the $5.1 million bond needed for new construction.

Estimated operating costs for the combined facilities are $1.2 million – up from $300,000 now (about $22 per resident). The board cites average operating costs of mountain resort library districts at $106 per resident and suggests that Basalt would merely be bringing its costs up to that, with a five-fold increase! The tax base and average household income in Basalt hardly match those of Aspen, Vail, Steamboat Springs and Telluride – those districts cited.

Finally, a little food for thought: Instead of building a new facility and expanding the old one, how about building just a new library of perhaps 14,000 square feet? This could be built on a smaller parcel at something around $4 million. Sell the existing building for $400,000, a conservative valuation, and reduce your construction outlay to $3.6 million. Save at least $400,000 annually in operating costs by eliminating the Lion’s Park facility.

For those of us who prefer the new facility to be in Basalt, we can name at least three other potential building sites other than Levinson, considered by the board not a good location (and I agree).

The board is overreaching in its plan to build and expand the facilities as proposed. No constituent should be asked to fund any community asset, regardless of its contribution to community life, that is not built and operated with careful financial planning designed to generate maximum cost-effectiveness.

I believe the voters are better served to reject this ballot question and ask the board to rethink its needs and attendant costs, and come up with a better plan.

Charlie Cole

Basalt


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