City librarian Rick Ashton is still pushing Denver to establish an independent library district funded by property taxes -- but don't look for it to show up on the ballot this coming November.
For almost a year, Ashton has been floating the idea of establishing a library district in Denver as a way of weaning the Denver Public Library off its dependence on city government. Under such a scheme, homeowners would pay a yearly fee to support the library as part of their property taxes ("Checked Out," August 7, 2003). For example, if the owner of a $247,000 house -- the average price of a home in Denver -- paid $48 per year, the library would raise about $20 million annually. The library's current annual budget is $28 million.
Last week, in testimony before the public-amenities committee of the Denver City Council, Ashton asked councilmembers to create a task force to review a library-district plan and possibly refer it to voters this fall. To back up his request, he'd brought along pollster Floyd Ciruli, who had polled 500 "frequent voters" this summer regarding their support for the library. Over half said they would support a library-district tax that brought in $30 million.
Like most of city government, the library is funded largely by city sales-tax revenue. As a result of budget cuts, DPL has seen its budget slashed by $5 million over the past three years. The library has had to lay off staff, close the doors of every library one day a week, and cut back on purchasing new materials.
But Mayor John Hickenlooper has made it clear that he doesn't want to see a library-district proposal this year. For the fall ballot, his priorities will be pushing for voter approval of RTD's FasTracks light-rail plan and renewal of the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District sales tax. While Ashton pointed out to committee members that only a hundred signatures are required to get a special-district proposal on a city ballot, he's unlikely to go up against the mayor -- particularly since Hickenlooper has said he'd support setting up a task force to study the proposal for the future.
Meanwhile, Hickenlooper is putting his own stamp on the Denver Library Commission, which oversees the library system. This week he appointed two new members to the eight-person commission: K.C. Veio and Sid Wilson.