City library levy hearing on Feb. 21
City Commissioners will conduct a public hearing on Feb. 21 on the proposed city charter amendment for a library levy.
Since the city charter currently limits the city to a maximum of two mills for the public library, staff is proposing to send charter amendments to the ballot in a special election on June 6.
The proposed special election would cost about $48,000, according to city staff, and the library will use the library fund to pay that expense.
If approved, the city would be able to levy up to 17 mills annually.
But the city doesn’t have to take that whole amount and the levy amounts are determined annually during the budget process.
The library board and staff have been discussing the library funding structure and the need for a levy since the summer of 2021.
Voters approved a two mill levy for the GFPL in 2000 and in the management agreement, the city gives an additional seven mills, plus additional funding support on top of that.
The library is funded through a mix of city, county and state dollars, as well as support from the Great Falls Public Library Foundation, but that funding is specific to programs and collections and cannot be used for operations, staffing or capital improvements.
The library is currently funded at $19 per capita, compared to the state average of $31, according to library staff.
Susie McIntyre, library director, said that they’re “really only asking to be brought up to the state average to provide the services our community deserves.”
Last year, the library developed a master plan that included information to “guide decisions on facility maintenance and upgrades, library space configurations, library services, community outreach, staffing and funding. A key finding of the master plan is that current library funding is inadequate. The Great Falls Public Library Board has determined with the escalating costs of operations, a levy is necessary to provide sustainable annual funding to expand library service, to continue to meet state standards and to provide for future growth,” according to library staff.
If passed, the levy would, according to staff:
- expand library hours to be open seven days a week
- expand Bookmobile services to six days a week providing more services to daycares, schools and seniors
- expand youth services programs including early literacy outreach, school age programming, and college and life preparedness for teens
- provide more lifelong learning opportunities including expanded collections, electronic resources and adult and senior programing
- restart and expand outreach services including the homebound program
- enhance technology resources including providing Internet access and digital resources.
If passed, the city would also cease subsidizing the library with $350,000 from the general fund annually, freeing up those funds for other needs.
If the levy was approved, the additional 15 mills would generate about $1.55 million, increasing the library’s operating budget to about $2.7 million annually.
The library would maintain the seven mills from the city set in the management agreement.
Under an agreement between the county commission and library board, the county has funded the library $177,000 annually, an amount that hasn’t increased since 2011.
McIntyre said earlier this month that library staff has drafted a new agreement for the county, but the funding level is the sticking point and she doesn’t know at this time if the county commission is open to revisiting that amount.
She said the library board and staff are working with the county to determine if a rural library levy could go on the ballot in November of 2023 or 2024.
That levy would impact voters outside the city limits and would also provide support for the Belt and Wedsworth libraries.
McIntyre said that the levy would improve services, but without it, the library won’t be able to maintain the status quo.
Without the levy, the library is projecting a $120,000 shortfall for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.
In that case, McIntyre said they’d have to cut staff, hours and services.
She said the library would probably go down to being open five days a week and below the minimum of 50 operating hours per week required by the Montana State Library standards and would result in a loss of $30,000 of state funding.
McIntyre said costs continue to increase but funding isn’t keeping up.
In the current budget year, without adding any staff, personnel costs increased almost $80,000 and the expected revenue increase was $21,000.
Those costs are related to insurance and labor agreements, as well as increased utilities and material costs, she said.
“I can’t bridge a $60,000 gap year over year,” McIntyre said. “We have cut everything that we can possibly cut.”
Everyone on the library management team works shifts on the reference and circulation desks, which McIntyre said isn’t the best used of staff with “great specialty skills.”
She said they want to be able to provide the best level of service to the community, “rather than reusing bubble gum and duct tape to keep our doors open.”
An independent ballot initiative committee, Vote Yes for Libraries, has been established to advocate for the levy.