Saturday, May 4, 2019
Just under half of residents in and around Boulder would vote for a library district and accompanying tax to fund an expansion of services. That’s according the results of a poll commissioned by the city council in November to gauge support for forming a special taxing district that would hopefully help stabilize funding for the library, which is struggling under increased demand and a stagnant budget.
Just 15% of those polled would definitely vote for a taxing district that would add $280 to the property tax bill per $850,000 of home value. That amount would pay for expanded services and programs at the library, such as more use of the Canyon Theater, and corner libraries in Gunbarrel and Niwot. A further 30.2% would “probably” support the tax increase.
The library commission has argued that a taxing district should include surrounding communities as well; 35-40% of the library’s users live outside the city. When the district is expanded to include Gunbarrel, Niwot and the mountain communities, the per-household cost shrinks a bit to $220 per $850,000 value. Support grows: 49.8% would definitely or probably support the tax.
That pattern was consistent across scenarios: The lower the tax increase, the higher the likelihood that poll respondents said they would vote for it. To keep the library running as-is, with no extra services or programs, would cost $160 per $850,000 household. This increase brought support up to more than half for the first time: 57.2% would definitely or probably vote for it.
$90 per household, on top of current funding, would close the gap between current services levels and expanded services. A full 67.2% would definitely or probably vote for the increase.
Despite the less-than-majority support at the higher funding levels, the Center for Research and Public Policy, which conducted the poll, believes that even a $280 increase would win voter approval. The firm noted that 77.4% of respondents support increase funding for the library, and 96.8% said the library was “important to the vitality of Boulder.”
“The CRPP team believes the Boulder Public Library is well positioned for a favorable outcome to a referendum even at the highest tax increase amount of $280,” they wrote in a memo to council.
Some council members pushed back on this assertion. Aaron Brockett asked if respondents might have become more agreeable to the ever-decreasing amounts simply because they had been asked so many times; Bob Yates had similar concerns, asking why the results may have been different if, for example, poll-takers led with the $90 option.
That’s not the way things are done, said Jerry Lindsley of CRPP. No client has ever requested that, and he believes it’s unlikely changing the order would affect the results.
Respondents weren’t completely sold on a property tax. Only 15.4% preferred that as a way to increase library funding; 29.4% thought a sales tax would be better. That idea was discussed has been discussed by council, but library officials said sales tax is too unstable as a funding source. A property tax would also be the only option for a district, if one is formed.
Those who might favor a district are in the minority: 45.4% said they strongly or somewhat support its formation, while 24.4% were somewhat or strongly opposed, and the rest unsure. But, as Lindsley noted, support for a district was higher among non-Boulder respondents — a demographic key for success at the ballot, since those not within city limits theoretically pay less for library services they use. Between 35-40% of library users live outside the city.
Of those polled, only 25.6% supported a tax increase when given a choice between that and reallocation of Boulder city funds, an option that 40.4% supported. It will cost $3.4 million to fund the library in 2019.
The love of the library is a bigger indicator of success at the ballot than purported support or opposition to a tax increase, Lindsley said.
Author’s note: This article has been updated to include comments from council. For a Twitter thread of that discussion, click here.