Monday, July 14, 2008

DCL Mill Levy - FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions about the Proposed Library Mill Levy Increase by the Douglas County Libraries in 2008 [note - this has been updated to reflect the revised proposal to be considered by the Douglas County Libraries Board of Trustees on August 21, 2008]

What is the library asking for?

A property tax increase of 1 (one) mill. 0.4 of that would pay for three new or replacement library buildings, and that part would go away or “sunset” after the buildings were paid off (about 15-20 years). The rest, less than one mill (0.6), would pay for operations (staff and materials, mainly), and would mark a permanent increase.

What does that mean for my taxes?

If your home is worth $100,000 (market value), you'll pay $7.96 more a year. If it's worth $200,000, then $15.92 a year. If $300,000, $23.88 a year.

Annually, the county assessor sends you a statement about the worth of your property.

The assessment rate for residential property is 7.96% (single family homes, mobile homes, condominiums, townhomes, multi-family, etc.). All other property has an assessment rate of 29% (vacant land, commercial, industrial, agricultural, natural resource property, etc.). Actual Value X Assessment Rate = Assessed Value.

So for every $100,000 of market value of your residential property, you have an assessed value of $7,960 (100,000 X .0796). Multiply that by the mill levy (7960 X .001) and you get the annual tax impact: $7.96. So if your house is worth $300,000 (that's the average for Douglas County), then the annual cost of the new mill levy would be $23.88 (3 X 7.96).

Why does the library board think the library needs more money?

Put simply, the library is out of space. There are various national standards for library service. Library officials estimate a need of about half a square foot per capita to provide the services people request and use from us: primarily books, movies, music, storytimes and programs, meeting rooms, computers, study space, and staff. In three areas of the county -- Parker, Castle Pines North, and Lone Tree -- the Douglas County Libraries are well under that space requirement. And we can predict that it's going to get worse.

But it's not just planning numbers: some libraries are now turning people away from storytimes. Or people are circling the parking lot three times before leaving, or people are waiting over a year for bestsellers. Or community groups trying to get a meeting room can't book one. Library services aren't just about facilities, but facilities are a basic foundation of what they can do. The library district needs more room.

A key evidence of need is growth in use. If you're a business, and you see 18% increase in sales per year, you're growing -- and those sales generate money for expansion. Demand equals income. But public libraries don't work like that. Douglas County Libraries is seeing growth in virtually all of its services, some 6 to 7 times greater than the national norm. Library revenue is distinct from our use; but library use still justifies expansion. The funding of public libraries comes from a voter-approved mill levy.

What has the library done to control costs?

For many years, the cost center of the library has been the people who ran library checkout and checkin processes. With a one-time investment in capital (self-check and automated return systems), the library reduced the staffing needs for those processes by almost two-thirds. It retrained and repurposed those staff to provide more direct public service -- in the stacks, building displays, answering questions. In the process, the removal of large circulation desks gave the library more space. Library materials used to be backlogged, sometimes taking 5 days to check in. Now, most materials make it back to the shelves the day they're returned. All of those changes have saved money, and have allowed the library to keep up with unprecedented growth in demand with staffing levels that are almost flat over the past 3 years.

Library administration tracks internal productivity measures: how many people to the number of checkouts? How many people to the dollars spent on new materials? In all these measures, Douglas County Libraries is among the most productive in the nation. It is efficient.

The library now has almost as many volunteers as it has staff. But today's library job requires training and experience; we can (and will) add volunteers, but they won't replace our in-house experts.

In addition, the library has centralized most purchasing, and teamed up with other Douglas County governments to buy in bulk.

Through our partnerships with other entities, we have received the offer of donated land in both Parker and Lone Tree. In Lone Tree however, that offer is dependent upon our moving forward with building plans in the next year – impossible without more capital funds.

The Library Board intends to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars, and has established reserves for capital improvements – but those reserves are not sufficient to build or operate any new libraries.

Why doesn't the library buy just books, instead of movies and music?

The library's traditional role of providing reading material is still an important one. It spends more on materials, and those materials get used more, than at any time in Douglas County history. The library has not abandoned that role. Indeed, by any objective measure, it is doing a better job of it than ever, and better than most libraries (higher “circulation” [checkouts] per capita, for instance).

But the purpose of the library is to gather, organize, and present the intellectual resources of our culture. That includes theater and film. That includes classical and popular music. We know that that's what people want, because they request it, and when the library buys it, people check them out. The expansion of the library collection into more popular media is a logical extension of what the library has always done.

Doesn't the library unfairly compete with bookstores, music and video stores?

The library worked with Tattered Cover to bring them into Douglas County, because they know what we know: libraries and bookstores don't compete with each other. We grow a market together. People borrow what they don't want to buy, and buy what they want to keep. We have great relationships with music and video stores, too.

Why is the library providing free reference services to other agencies in the community? Doesn't that mean that you are overstaffed?

The library is supported by the community; it exists to serve it. The library employs highly trained researchers, yet many of the information needs in our community are never taken to the library. The 21st century library sends librarians into the community to find the questions it needs to answer, rather than waiting passively for someone to go to the library first. That is not a betrayal of the library mission; it is in fact a far more thoughtful and active pursuit of it.

Why is the library asking for money for the arts?

It isn't. It never did. It is asking for money to build and operate libraries. The proposed land for two of the library projects (Lone Tree and Parker) is adjacent to proposed performing arts centers in those communities. But the library isn't paying for them. They are local projects. Together, libraries and performing arts centers add up to a significant draw for economic development. But the funding for them is completely separate.

There is an independent library foundation, a 501 (c)(3) organization that uses private donations for the purchase of art in our libraries and in partnerships with other community agencies. But no taxpayer dollars are used for the purchase of art.

Who needs libraries in the age of the Internet?

In 2007, the Douglas County checked out more children's materials – primarily books – than any other library in the state of Colorado. This investment in literacy is one of the key contributions of the public library.

There is additional research about the importance of the public library in the Internet age. First, technology has increased, not decreased, library use. The Internet is wonderful as a way to get quick facts. But the library is about far more than quick answers. It's about reading. It's about browsing the magazines. It's about programs for children, or teens, or adults. It's about meeting rooms and study spaces. It's about seeing and being seen. It's about building community. Second, the library is also a place that provides high speed access to the Internet – of increasing importance when more and more of our life is managed through it. Third, the library subscribes to high quality commercial databases that are “invisible” to Google; and our trained staff are highly skilled researchers – staff add value to the Internet, rather than being replaced by it.

Why is the library asking for money now, in a time of rising prices and talk of recession?

We are well aware that many prices are rising. So are library prices. But for less than a single tank of gas, our community can buy three new buildings, and tens of thousands of new materials for use by the community. An investment in the intellectual infrastructure of our community is just as important as an investment in roads. A strong library has been demonstrated to attract new business development. We help people write resumes and business plans. We provide strategic information to help businesses grow. We save money for families who want to preview a book or movie before they buy it.

Incidentally, a 2007 study ( showed that the Return on Investment for library support is $5.02. That is, for every $1 invested in the library, the Douglas County Libraries gives back over 5 times the amount in value (goods and services).

Why should the people who aren't getting new libraries pay for libraries in other communities?

There are three answers. First, because all Douglas County Libraries are inter-related. What is requested by a patron at one library, may be delivered from another. The more strain that is placed on smaller libraries, the more they will transfer resources from the larger ones. Second, because the people in those other communities paid for your library. This issue is one of fairness. Third, even in communities that have libraries (Castle Rock, Highlands Ranch, Roxborough), we'll make modest improvements: an expansion of the children's room in Castle Rock, the conversion of a storage space at Highlands Ranch into a meeting room, computer lab, or stacks space), and eventual expansion of the Roxborough space as the population grows.

But the first answer is the best: libraries are a cooperative purchasing agreement. By spreading the costs around the whole county, we keep the costs low.

Why is the library coming back after losing last year?

  • because the need is still there.
  • because the library still hasn't had a tax increase since 1996 -- and its growth in use has far outstripped both population and revenue.
  • because one of the key objections identified by nonsupporters in 2007 was their belief that the capital part of the mill levy should sunset when the buildings are paid off. That provision is a part of the new proposal.
  • because a lot of people didn't vote last year. If the community wishes the quality of library services to decline, let's have more than 17% of the electorate say so. (34% of the registered voters voted last year; of those, 51% decided the vote. Fifty-one percent of 34% is 17.34%.)

Why doesn't the library buy vacant stores, as it did in Castle Rock?

Library officials have been in close contact with economic development groups in all of the communities it serves. At present, there is no available property that is centrally located in projected service areas. The King Soopers in Parker is often mentioned as available; the owners tell us that it isn't for sale. Even if one becomes available, the library can't make an agreement with current owners without the money to do so. By contrast, the offer of free land in Parker and Lone Tree means not only that the library can plan for costs, but can also put all of the money into construction, rather than land acquisition. Free land is a significant savings, worth at least $2 million in each location. In at least one location – Lone Tree – the offer will be rescinded by the developer if a second attempt at a mill levy increase fails.

Why isn't the library planning for the future?

Planning for the future is one of the things Douglas County Libraries does best. It has been a leader in library technology. In the entire history of the library district, it has thoughtfully planned for building, incurring no debt whatsoever. On a per capita basis, it has grown from one of the worst libraries in the state in 1990, to one of the nation's best in library use generally. But excellence requires continued investment – or it becomes decline.

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