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They Built it and They Came

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Library District asks for a continuing levy

March 27, 2002

"We believed, when we built this facility, that if we'd build it, they would come," explained Gil Beyer, a board member for the East Bonner County Library District. "We've been astounded at the levels we've seen."

    It's only been a few short years since the voters of Bonner County gave a resounding "yes!" vote to the question of whether we would have new library facilities. In 1999, a new building opened in Clark Fork and, in the spring of 2000, a beautiful, two-story facility was finished in Sandpoint.

    "There's been a 36% increase in patron usage," Beyer said. "Our bookmobile circulated 14,000 materials just in its first year of operation. Out at Clark Fork, it's not unusual to have 120 people a day come through the doors. We said if we'd build it they would come, and by God, they did."

    That increased usage has been a two-edged sword, however, as trustees have grappled with increased operation costs over the past couple of years.

    "We've been running budgets that have increased about 3.5% per year just due to increased property values," Beyer explained. "But our real expenses have increased 7 to 9% each year. We've projected this out, and by 2004 we'll be spending $400,000 a year more than we have coming in."

    With that kind of deficit in revenues, it's hardly surprising that the library Board is asking voters to approve a permanent levy on May 23rd that will allow the district to tax at the maximum allowed by law - .0006%. What's surprising is that they've waited until now to do so.

    "The only reason we've been able to maintain our level of operation is because of prudent fiscal management," said Beyer. "We had a fairly decent reserve built up, but that's disappearing."

    Back in 1992, library trustees voted to levy against property taxes at a rate lower than that allowed by law. "They voted to reduce the levy from 60 mil down to 48. They felt they didn't need the money at the time, and they wanted to save the tax payer some dollars." Two months later, however, "Boise put the 3% cap on everybody except themselves."

    What Beyer is referring to is a decision by the state's Legislature that government bodies could not increase their budgets by more than 3% each year - except, of course, for their own. "All we're asking now is for permission to go (back) to the statutory limit," Beyer explained.

    A look at some of the numbers library trustees peruse each month is surprising; for example, by the end of the last fiscal year (last September) over 400,000 materials were circulated (which includes computer usage). The library now boasts a large selection of books on tape, VHS movies and DVDs, even enhanced videos for the sight-impaired. And according to Beyer, "Our after-school youth programs with Pat DeMarco have just exploded. Obviously," he added, "this is something the community needed." The programs are also as popular in Clark Fork.

    "Historically, the library receives less money from taxes than most other departments or special districts listed on annual tax bills, and has learned to squeeze as much value as it can out of every dollar received. A decade later, however, a desire to responsibly manage the libraries that citizens voted to build requires trustees to ask for support one more time," reads a levy flyer put out by the board.

    For homeowners with a taxable value of $100,000 (after the homeowner's exemption) the cost of this levy will be $16 per year. "One of our supporters came up with a great analogy," Beyer said. "She pointed out that's the price of just one magazine subscription. Cancel the subscription and support the levy. You'll definitely get your money's worth."

    Should the levy pass, voters needn't worry that the library board will be back at the table every year, asking for more. Under current law, libraries in Idaho are not allowed to levy any more than what's being asked for in this vote.

    The levy election will be held at the same time as the primary election for the county, 12 noon to 8 pm on May 23rd. Although the librariy levy will appear on a separate ballot, voters may vote in the same place, and at the same time, as they vote for the primary election.

    Are operations and programs at risk if the levy doesn't pass? Beyer doesn't want to say. "I believe we should just present our case in a straightforward way with no smoke and mirrors," he said. "I don't believe in threats. We just want to tell the people clearly what we're going to do, and what we're going to do is continue to serve our community as well as we have been. Besides," he added, "I believe our community really cares about its library."

 

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Landon Otis

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levy, East Bonner County Library

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