This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

April 30, 2009 - library taxes and Louviers

To many citizens, public funding is a mystery. That includes library funding. So this week I thought I'd walk through some numbers for one of our service areas that's been in the news lately: Louviers.

Most of the library's revenues come from 4 mills of property tax (approved by the voters back in 1996). Year by year, that varies slightly, adjusted by the county assessor to reflect minor changes in collections called "abatements," but the library doesn't have any control over that.

1 mill = $7.96 of the ASSESSED VALUE of a house whose actual or MARKET VALUE according to the county assessor (sometimes equivalent to what you can sell your house for -- sometimes not) is $100,000. So 2 mills = $15.92, 3 mills = $23.88, and 4 mills = $31.84.

Now let's apply that to houses by the assessor's opinion of market value. The calculations below tell you what a household of this value would pay in library taxes for an entire year.

4 mills ($31.84) X $100,000 market value= $31.84

4 mills X $200,000 market value = $63.68

4 mills X $300,000 market value = $95.52

4 mills X $400,000 market value = $127.36

4 mills X $500,000 market value = $159.20

4 mills X $1,000,000 market value = $310.84

And yes, I skipped from 500,000 to a million, just to say that hey, if you live in a million dollar house, you would pay just over $300 a year for libraries.

Does that sound like a lot?

Now figure out what you pay for cable TV -- $50 a month? A cell phone? Broadband? Gym membership? For most households in Douglas County, people pay more for any of these services in two months than they pay for the library in a whole year.

Arguably, the library investment not only has a higher personal return on the investment, it makes a direct contribution to the quality of our shared community.

Now multiply the average value of those homes times the number of homes in an area. Let's say the average home price in Louviers is $300,000. And there are about 100 homes. The average house would pay just under $100 a year in library taxes. Times 100 homes, that's a total contribution of $10,000 from Louviers residential properties for library services. (As any commercial property owner knows, commercial property pays about 3-1/2 times higher taxes than residential.)

In 2008, we spent over $90,000 to operate the Louviers Library, mostly on salaries and materials.

Where did the difference between the $10,000 and the $90,000 come from? From the rest of the county. It came, for instance, from the revenues collected from the Castle Pines area, which has no library at all.

This kind of disparity is historical; Louviers was around long before Castle Pines. But it explains, I hope, why I have argued that a regional library approach -- centering libraries in larger population centers that people also visit to shop -- is not only more cost-effective, but is also inherently fairer to all our patrons -- Douglas County residents who are in fact our owners.

Based on a recent decision by our Board of Trustees, and due to a projected long term decline in property tax collections, we'll be scaling back our services in Louviers by about half, leading to an annual cost of about $45,000. The citizens of Louviers in fact recommended this reduction in response to our fiscal outlook.

Quite aside from the numbers, they have spoken at length about the intangibles of library service: the library's contribution to a sense of community, the library's role in preserving unique local history, and the library's role as community gathering place. All of that's true, too.

The challenge for the library -- and most other public institutions -- is to balance the lofty goals that drive us with the fiscal realities that either enable, or restrict, our ability to live up to them.

LaRue's Views are his own.

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