City moving forward with plans to send library levy to May ballot

The city is moving forward with a proposed levy to fund operations at the Great Falls Public Library.

The library is essentially asking for a 17 mill levy, to maintain the existing two voted mills it receives, and replace the current $350,000 general fund subsidy.

The proposed city levy would generate $1.5 million in revenue for the library.

Susie McIntyre, library director, told City Commissioners during their Dec. 20 work session that the goal was to bring their operational budget up from their current $1.5 million to $2.75 million.

Library votes to pursue city, rural mill levies

The library board voted Dec. 12 to pursue a city levy on the May 2023 ballot and a rural county levy on the November 2023 ballot.

If the city levy fails, McIntyre said she’d recommend going for a countywide levy instead.

McIntyre said the library needs increased operational funding to add staffing and programs.

Library board to discuss levy options

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.

Library presents master plan, levy proposal to city commission

“Our community deserves better,” McIntyre told commissioners.

The levy will also requiring existing city charter language, since it currently restricts the city to only two mills for the library.

She said that the believes it will be challenging to pass a library levy, but that library supporters and the foundation are committed to pursuing it and getting it passed.

If passed, McIntyre said, “we believe we can transform library services for our community.”

Great Falls library board pursuing levy

Commissioners said during their work session that they support sending the question to the voters and putting the resolution on a January agenda, which will include a public hearing.

If the levy passed, library staff are planning to hire a social worker and safety specialists.

McIntyre said there’s over the summer, a local nonprofit used COVID money to hire a counselor who spent 12 hours per week at the library.

She said the two biggest complaints they hear at the library are paying for parking and patrons not feeling safe.

Great Falls library master planning underway

She said the library is a place for all, but that’s also a challenge as community problems will manifest there.

McIntyre said the Great Falls Police Department told her that the library is in the top five of places calling dispatch.

The counselor has intervened with at least three suicidal people and connected them with help; spoke with a person who was sobbing at a public computer after getting terrible news via social media; and helped keep situations from escalating, McIntyre said.

Great Falls library closed due to staffing shortage

She told commissioners that her staff is paid or trained to deal with those types of situations.

“We need help dealing with them,” McIntyre said. “It’s a complicated issue.”

Commissioner Rick Tryon said he supports replacing the $350,000 general fund subsidy with the levy, if passed, since it would free up those funds for other needs, such as public safety.

Officials looking at options for library funding structure

McIntyre said she was working on two budgets for the upcoming year, one if the levy passed, one if it doesn’t and that if it doesn’t she’d continue asking for that general fund subsidy.