Denver Public Library, facing budget cuts, asks for community input on how to raise revenue

The Denver Public Library is in financial trouble. Since 2003, city budget constraints have caused the system to cut hours, reduce staff and spend less money on new books. And it may only get worse: Next year, the library has been instructed to cut another $2.5 million from its budget. Starting tonight, the library will host a series of community meetings to gather feedback on possible solutions.

The Denver Public Library Commission has proposed three options:

Keep the current funding structure. At present, library funding comes from the city's general fund. The money is raised mostly through sales taxes, and the library's portion ($30,087,000 in 2010) fluctuates every year, depending on the city's other needs.

This option would force the library to make some tough choices. In order to reduce the budget by $2.5 million in 2012, the library would have to further reduce hours at all 23 branches or drastically cut its technology and acquisitions budgets. Or the library could keep the current hours but close between seven and twelve branches.

Ask voters to authorize a mill levy dedicated to the library. Voters would be asked to approve a mill levy -- essentially a property tax -- with revenue set aside for the library. The proposed tax would be between $53 and $58 for a house valued at $200,000. Under this option, the library would remain a city agency governed by a library commission that would control the budget.

Ask voters to create a Denver Library District with taxing powers. This option would separate the library system from the city. Funding would come from a mill levy that would tax residents at the same level as the previous option. The library would be governed by a board of trustees appointed by the city council.

In a document released last month, the commission laid out the options in more detail -- and suggested that the first isn't good: "Relentless reduction in service hours has led to a delivery system that increasingly frustrates its customers, and inadequate acquisitions and technology budgets result in steady erosion of collection and equipment quality."

On its quest to reverse that trend, the library commission is asking for community input. The schedule of community budget meetings is as follows. Bring your thinking caps.

Tonight, 6 to 7:45 p.m., Denver Central Library Thursday, May 26, 6 to 7:45 p.m., Woodbury Branch Library Tuesday, May 31, 6 to 7:45 p.m., Park Hill Branch Library Wednesday, June 1, 6 to 7:45 p.m., Green Valley Ranch Branch Library Saturday, June 4, 10 a.m. to noon, Ross-University Hills Branch Library Monday, June 6, 6 to 7:45 p.m., Hadley Branch Library

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