Library votes to pursue city, rural mill levies

The Great Falls Public Library board voted during their special meeting on Dec. 12 to send a city levy to voters on the May ballot and a rural levy to the November ballot for those living outside the city limits.

If the city levy fails, Library Director Susie McIntyre said she’d recommend they pursue a countywide ballot for the November ballot instead.

She said that Alma Smith Jacobs pursued funding for the library and the votes on building the current library failed twice, but she kept at it and informing the community about the importance of the library, eventually getting approval.

McIntyre told the board that they need to get the budget from their current $1.5 million for operations to $2.75 million.

Library board to discuss levy options

The library board is planning to pursue levies for library operations, and a separate fundraising campaign for a multi-million capital improvement plan.

McIntyre said the polling data from their  consultant indicated that locals would support the levy as long as the ask isn’t too high and the library retains the bulk of their existing funding.

The library board doesn’t have the authority to send a levy to the ballot for either the city or the county and will need the City Commission and County Commission to vote to send the question to voters.

McIntyre will present to the City Commission on the library levy again during their Dec. 20 work session.

Library presents master plan, levy proposal to city commission

She said she doesn’t have feedback yet from the city or county on whether they’ll maintain their existing support.

Currently, the library gets two voted city mills, plus an additional seven mills through an agreement with the city. The city’s general fund also subsidizes the library $350,000 annually, a level that has been the same for eight years.

The county subsidizes the library with $177,000 annually, the same amount since 2011, McIntyre said.

The state contributes $32,075, an amount the library could lose if they don’t meet the state requirement for operating hours.

The library also receives about $250,000 annually from the Great Falls Public Library Foundation, which cannot support operations under their bylaws, but supports material purchases and programming.

McIntyre said that if all that funding remains the same, they’d need to ask for $1.24 million from the city, or about 12 mills, which would raise taxes annually by $16.20 on a $100,000 house or $32.50 on a $200,000 house.

Great Falls library board pursuing levy

If the city dropped its general fund subsidy, they’d need $1.54 million, or 15 mills, which would raise taxes annually by $20.84 on a $100,000 house and $41.68 on a $200,000 house.

Those numbers were calculated with library staff believing they could add the levy to their existing two mill levy, but the city legal department said the levies would not be added together.

There’s also a question of updating the city charter, which specifically limits the city to levying two mills for the library. City staff are currently researching those factors of the proposed library levy.

Great Falls library master planning underway

County Commissioner Don Ryan said during the Dec. 12 meeting that he wasn’t sure if they could put a designated rural levy on the ballot.

County Attorney Josh Racki told The Electric that County Commissioner Joe Briggs had asked his office to look at the issue, but they haven’t yet issued a formal legal opinion.

During the special library board meeting, McIntyre said their vision is to be open seven days a week, run the Bookmobile six days a week and expand services.

Being open seven days a week would increase their hours to 61 per week and would require more staffing.

Great Falls Public Library seeking proposals for master plan process

McIntyre said the state library standards for funding require that they’re open 50 hours per week and currently GFPL is open 52 hours per week.

“Right now, we are really struggling,” McIntyre told the board.

She said that currently, based on available funding, the library is providing less services and materials than the community deserves.

McIntyre said on average, libraries in Montana are funded at $31 per capita but the GFPL is funded at $19 per capita.

Part of the budget strain is increased personnel costs due to collective bargaining agreements and other drivers.

Great Falls library closed due to staffing shortage [2021]

She said the library has cut costs, in part by not filling the vacant public relations/programming position and leased space to the Self-Help Law Clinic, but their budget is projected to end the year $60,000 in the red.

If revenue and costs continue on the same trajectory, McIntyre said the library budget for the next fiscal year will be $120,000 in the red, or require “severe cuts in services including layoffs and reduced hours.”

She said she doesn’t think it’s possible to reduce hours, since they’d also lose state funding in that case, so they’re looking at layoffs.

The library board went through a master plan process this week and developed a plan for a major facilities upgrade, which will require a capital campaign separate from the operational levy proposal.

“Really the only way to get the library to sustainable funding is a mill levy,” McIntyre told the board.

Officials looking at options for library funding structure [2021]

The library foundation hired Lake Research Partners to conduct polling to determine voter support for the proposed mill levy.

McIntyre said that the key findings included that countywide, 52 percent of likely voters said they’d vote for an additional mill levy of 7.8 mills and 39 percent would strongly support that levy.

In the city, those numbers were 53 percent of likely voters in favor with 37 percent offering strong support.

For the county residents outside the city limits, the 7.8 mill levy got 50 percent support with 41 percent strongly in favor.

McIntyre and other library officials have met with the boards of the Belt and Wedsworth libraries, which voted to collaborate with GFPL if they do a countywide levy.

Library looking at funding structure options, possibility of levy [2021]

She said she didn’t believe county commissioners would support a countywide levy on the May ballot, but wouldn’t oppose a city mill levy on that ballot.

She said the county would support a countywide mill levy or a rural mill levy on the November ballot.

McIntyre said Commissioner Don Ryan supports the library levy, the other two county commissioners haven’t indicated support and she hasn’t heard back from newly elected Rae Grulkowski, who will take office in January.

McIntyre said the city doesn’t want the library levy on the November ballot since they’ll likely send a public safety levy to that ballot.

Sam DeForest, library board member, asked what would happen if the city levy passed but rural levy didn’t.

Library continuing capital projects; Bookmobile ceremony is May 27; COVID rules changing; operating hours to expand [2021]

McIntyre said in that case staff would talk to county commissioners about renegotiating their agreement to increase county funding toward the library and if that didn’t work, she’d recommend cutting some county services until they could pay more to the joint city-county library.

She said she didn’t think that would be likely, but everyone needs to contribute for library services.

Whitney Olson, library board chair, said they’ve been discussing the need for increased funding for more than a year, but some of the recent public comment demonstrated the need for more public education about the library’s needs.

She said it’s a decision for voters to determine what services the community deserves.

“We don’t have the money to continue doing what we’re doing so the voters need to decide,” Olson said.

One public question was why the library needed to hire a social worker.

McIntyre said they used ARPA money for a pilot program to hire a social worker to be at the library 12 hours per week.

She said that because the community has housing, addiction and mental health problems, those problems surface at the library.

She said they frequently have to call dispatch for police support and they need librarians to continue being librarians and not handling situations they are trained for, such a disorderly patrons or other behavioral issues.

McIntyre said she believes in prevention and the social worker has helped deescalate situations and connect people with resources.

She said they’ve needed to call police less, kicked out fewer people and there have been fewer instances of children witnessing patron behavioral issues due to the social worker’s intervention.

“We live in the real world an the real world is that the library is a place of refuge,” McIntyre said.

The hire was also the result of multiple patron concerns about disorderly behavior in the library, according to board members.

Jeni, doesn’t think it’s in the library bylaws to provide social services

If you need social services, other agencies to provide that