Ballot measure 6A could help South Routt Library District overcome budget challenges

The South Routt Library District, which oversees the Oak Creek and Yampa libraries, will be asking voters to pass ballot Issue 6A this November. The move would allow the district to avoid the limits of TABOR.
Debbie Curtis/Courtesy photo

Recessions, reduced production at the Twentymile Coal mine and an inability to grow its budget has lead the South Routt Library District to ask voters for help this November.

“The cost of books in the last 10 years has increased 50%, and employee salaries have not kept up with inflation. This is also the case with utilities, maintenance, office supplies and other expenses,” District Manager of the South Routt Library Debbie Curtis said during the Steamboat Pilot & Today 2022 Election Forum on Monday, Oct. 10.

“Unfortunately, if ballot 6A does not pass, it’s a very real possibility that one of the libraries will have to close,” Curtis warned.

As a result, officials at the South Routt Library District are asking voters to support ballot issue 6A, which would allow the district to collect, retain and spend all revenue generated from its total mill levy as a voter-approved revenue and spending change and, most importantly, grant exception to any statutory limits.

Currently, the district is restricted by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, commonly known as TABOR. Passed by voters in 1992, TABOR has since limited the South Routt Library District to a 5.5% increase each year. This amendment to the Colorado Constitution generally limits the amount of revenue governments and special districts in the state can retain and spend absent voter approval, and it requires excess revenue to be refunded to taxpayers.

If ballot measure 6A passes, it would remove the cap that has limited the South Routt Library District’s ability to grow and adjust to events such as the 2008 recession and reduced taxes as Peabody Energy continues to reduce production at the Twentymile mine.

The South Routt Library District generated $142,000 in 2012, but 10 years later, that revenue has dwindled to $100,500 because of TABOR’s restrictions. Next year, the district’s revenue is expected to climb to $105,000, and the libraries could likely see more dramatic increases and an improved ability to deal with economic downturns if 6A passes.

“It’s just a ratchet-down effect when you lose the money from the coal mine and then the 2008 recession where the value of housing went down significantly. There’s just no way for us to recover at 5.5%,” Curtis said. “It’s a no-win situation, and then if we have to get into a recession again, here we go starting all over again.”

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Curtis said that many years ago, the library district looked into de-brucing, or asking voters to approve a ballot measure to escape the confines of TABOR, but they were told that it would be illegal.

Today, the South Routt Library District is the only library that’s hemmed in by TABOR after the library districts covering Hayden and Steamboat got voter approval to remove them from TABOR’s restrictions. In Hayden, voters approved Referendum 5A in 2006 with 79% of voters in support, removing the revenue limits set forth in TABOR.

Last year, the mill levy from property taxes for the Hayden Library generated $227,000 for the library that serves 1,800 residents. Without the approval of 6A, the South Routt Library District — which serves 3,200 residents — is expected to generate $105,000 to operate libraries in Oak Creek next year. If 6A passes, the South Routt Library District could see an $8,500 increase in revenue in 2023 and up to a $68,000 increase by 2024 when new valuations go into effect.

“West Routt got out of TABOR a long time ago, as did the Bud Warner Library, the towns of Oak Creek and Yampa and their fire districts, the medical center and the school districts as well,” Curtis said. “We’re the last of the special districts to get out of TABOR. It’s too bad that we were given bad legal advice over 20 years ago, saying it was illegal by an attorney, and nobody checked into it.”

Curtis said that the district has worked hard to limit its budget, and if 6A passes, the library would see a sustained benefit.

“It’s a shoestring budget right now,” Curtis said. “We could order more books and we would have a bigger book budget. Our budget is $6,900 this year, but at one point, it was $10,000. With the price of books, that doesn’t go very far.”

It would also allow the district to increase the salaries of current employees to a more livable wage and build on the momentum that came from purchasing a building on Main Street for the Oak Creek community. Curtis said she wants people to understand that the libraries’ expenditures of more than $500,000 in 2021 was not the norm. She said the district spent $345,000 to buy the building, and also saw increased spending to move to the new location and properly furnish it.

Curtis added that the district saved for eight years by electing not to hire a director to come up with the money to make that move, and the library district used a DOLA grant and other grants to cover the cost of the new building.

Proponents says that ballot measure 6A would increase an owner’s property taxes by $2 per month for a $400,000 residence, and commercial taxes would be less than $4 per month on property of the same assessed value.

“Since we moved on Main Street here in Oak Creek, oh my gosh people are coming in all the time and taking advantage of our events,” Curtis said. “This is $2 a month. Don’t you think your libraries are worth $2 a month?”

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