Voters will decide in November whether to help fund Denver Public Libraries through a property tax increase

City Council approved DPL’s request to ask voters to fund expanded services, building upgrades and increased wages and training for staff.
5 min. read
Carly Tam, Julie Martinez and Khoa Hoang are excited to give you books at their curbside pickup location outside of the Corky Gonzales library on West Colfax Avenue. July 7, 2020.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Come November, Denver voters will get to choose whether they want to help increase funding for Denver Public Library services by increasing their property taxes.

On Monday, City Council approved DPL's request to place the proposed property tax increase on the November ballot, giving Denverites a chance to decide whether they want to help increase funding by over $31 million. The vote was 11-1, with Councilmember Christopher Herndon voting no.

The ballot measure will ask voters to establish a new dedicated property tax at a rate of 1.5 mills, which equates to a monthly increase of about $4.19 for "an average home." During DPL's presentation, Denver City Librarian Michelle Jeske said the estimated increase is based on the Denver median home value of $469,000, per the city auditor. For commercial properties, the increase would be about $43.50 per year for every $100,000 in value.

DPL would expect about $31.6 million dollars in additional funding per year. That funding would go into three different categories: communities, spaces and people.

The newly renovated Denver Public Library Byers Branch on Santa Fe Drive. June 18, 2021.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

The "communities" bucket, about $11.3 million, would fund additional community outreach services, expand collection materials, increase language access and programs for vulnerable populations, and replace computers and new audio-visual equipment.

It would also expand hours on nights and weekends.

"We're definitely keeping equity in mind as we're increasing hours," Jeske previously said at a Business, Arts, Workforce & Aviation Services Committee meeting. "We would have evening hours at all locations, which we don't have now, and weekend hours at all locations. We would strategically place Sunday hours, so seven-day service, geographically distributed around the city, and in neighborhoods we feel those services are needed."

Children’s Librarian Amy Seto Forrester stocks some of the stacks that will be available on main floor of the Denver Public Library’s Central Library on Friday, July 17, 2021. The facility will reopen with limited access to the first floor, computer rooms, and social service facilities to the public on Sunday, July 16 after being closed first by the COVID-19 pandemic, and then owing to extensive renovations.
Hart Van Denburg/CPR News

"Spaces" means the actual buildings. That category would receive $15.2 million for building maintenance and improvements, the creation for teen and youth spaces as well as deferred maintenance that includes ADA corrections, expansion of ideaLAB, painting, landscaping and updating community rooms.

"People" refers to staff. About $5 million would be allocated to increase wages, training and professional development.

During Monday's council hearing, about 12 people spoke during the public hearing in favor of putting the tax increase on the ballot.

Some were DPL employees who said the increase would be beneficial to the whole library system but especially the neighborhoods served by the libraries who provide technology support and peer navigation.

One of the main concerns amongst the council centers around the high cost of living. Councilmember Stacie Gilmore asked DPL whether they considered an increase in sales tax as opposed to property. Jeske said it was considered but after community feedback it was decided property taxes would be a more reliable source of funding.

She said property taxes are less regressive than sales taxes. She added that voters recently approved some sales tax increases, so asking again might be "untenable."

Librarian Terry Nelson catalogues issues of Jet Magazine that are part of the collection here at the Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library. July 22, 2021.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Herndon previously questioned why DPL couldn't get the funding from the general budget.

Jeske said DPL received funding from the budget but it wouldn't be enough to accomplish all of DPL's goals.

"There are limited dollars and a lot of competing needs," Jeske said. "We had some nice increases under this mayoral administration and others, but we have charts that show the diminishing percentage of the city's general fund that goes to the library."

Jeske added that other libraries, such as the Seattle Public Library, receive funding from a the city's general fund in addition to a dedicated property tax.

At Monday's council meeting, Herndon reiterated that he believes funding should come from the budget. He said in the past council was able to find ways to fund projects.

"The idea that we can't find $30 million for our library is a fallacy," Herndon said. "In my 11 years on council, when it's been a priority, we find the money. Libraries are a priority and I believe we can find the money in the upcoming budget. My "no" vote has nothing to do with not believing that you don't deserve this money. You do. But I think about all the ways we have added on our taxpayers' wallets and this is a way I believe we could achieve the goal without doing that."

Voters have approved funding for the library before via the 2021 Rise Bond and the 2017 Elevate Denver Bond, where the library received $29 million and $71 million, respectively.

Through the bond funding, DPL is currently working on constructing new branches in Globeville and Westwood. Several branches were also renovated or currently under renovation including the Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library and the Central Library

"Today we have the ability to refer this to the voters so they can weigh in and make a decision on this," Councilmember Jolon Clark said. "Now is the time for us to take action for this critical civic institution. We need funding to sustain the programs we currently have for our city's growing population. I firmly believe that Denver voters want a chance to better fund our libraries."

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