Despite receiving unanimous approval for a proposed tax increase from the City of Gunnison and the Town of Mt. Crested Butte, Gunnison County Library District leaders were met with hesitation from the Town of Crested Butte this week.
Crested Butte councilors questioned the benefit to the north end of the valley, opting to table discussion over support of the resolution until Oct. 7.
The measure would mean a 1.9 mill property tax increase to support operations, expand services and create financial independence from Gunnison County. The tax increase would cost homeowners $13.21 per $100,000 of assessed value annually and generate approximately $1 million each year.
If approved, district leaders say the new mill levy would support a 27 percent increase in library services, including physical and digital content, programs for all ages and audiences, and increased access to technology.
“If it doesn't pass, at best case scenario it’s status quo,” explained library district Executive Director Drew Brookhart.
The district also is pursuing the construction of a new building in Gunnison. Under the plan, new facilities would be built on the Van Tuyl parcel — located north of the Gunnison Community School — which was received as a gift from late Gunnison rancher Ray Van Tuyl.
While councilors at the south end of the valley threw their support behind the tax measure Sept. 10 — and Mt. Crested Butte council followed suit Tuesday — elected leaders in Crested Butte were apprehensive about the proposal.
“So who would determine where those funds are allocated?” asked Crested Butte Councilor Mallika Magner.
According to Brookhart, that decision ultimately falls on the library district board, comprised of representatives from both ends of the valley appointed by County Commissioners.
Yet, Crested Butte Councilor Laura Mitchell pointed to a vacancy on the current library board.
“Are you trying to get someone from the north end of the valley?” she posed.
Despite Brookhart indicating the district has sought equal representation at the north and south ends of the valley, Crested Butte leaders still questioned whether they’d get a fair shake should the tax question pass.
“The question is how does this end of the valley ensure that we get our fair share of those funds?” said Magner.
While Councilor Chris Haver expressed support for the expansion of services in the county, he requested additional time to study the proposal before approving the resolution.
However, one Crested Butte councilor was quick to back the tax question.
“It just seems like a no brainer at this point,” said Councilor Will Dujardin. “We should be supporting this 100 percent.”
The first library in the City of Gunnison was located in the basement of Webster Hall.
Established by the American Association of University Women in 1939, there were a mere 2,000 books made available. Fast forward to 2019 and the Gunnison County Library District is host to more than 150,000 books between Gunnison and Crested Butte locations.
Yet, funding for operations remains a challenge as services continue to increase, according to district leaders.
“We don’t have an adequate space for staff. We are at a point where we are removing a book from the collection to add a book,” explained Brookhart. “We don’t have a dedicated children’s space. This has been happening for quite some time.”
In 1965, Gunnison County established an inter-governmental agreement through which public library services were under the purview of the local government, acting essentially as a county department. A decade later, the Gunnison library moved to its current location on North Wisconsin Street.
In 1992, the district began to lease the Old Rock building in Crested Butte to serve as a north-valley branch.
“We’re busy,” said Brookhart, who noted the district sees approximately 146,000 visitors to libraries valley-wide each year.
In 2008, the library district was formed with the goal of ensuring publicly supported free library service for residents in Gunnison County. However, more than a decade after the creation of the district, the service still relies on county funds to continue operations.
In 2011, the district unsuccessfully floated two similar ballot questions related to expansion of facilities. One would have approved the sale of bonds to construct a new, 18,000-square-foot library on the library-owned 5.32-acre Van Tuyl parcel and a “children’s annex” in Crested Butte.
The second question would have generated operating and maintenance revenue for new library facilities.
(Kate Gienapp can be reached at 970.641.1414 or firstname.lastname@example.org .)
LIBRARY DISTRICT BY THE NUMBERS
> Free community access to a collection that exceeds 150,000 books, movies and electronic and streaming materials.
> More than 650 annual program offerings.
> Since the district formed in 2008, annual visits to the library have increased by 60,000.
> In 2017, the district provided more than 5,930 service hours to the community.
KEY IMPROVEMENTS IF QUESTION PASSES
> Increase the number of new books by 785 annually.
> Increase the amount of digital content annually with 170 new DVDs, 45 new audiobooks and a larger music collection.
> Add 163 more downloadable eBooks and 79 more eAudio books to the OverDrive collection annually.
> Provide improved access to Hoopla downloadable and streaming content by allowing five uses per library card holder per month, with unrestricted access to items available from Hoopla.