Residents of north Boulder have been waiting more than 15 years for a library branch they were promised.
But now the money that was set aside to build that branch may be used for other library improvements.
Some are crying foul over a recent city analysis showing that a $1.7 million earmark for the new branch expired in 2007. But others say that in the current economic environment — in which the library considered closing its Meadows Branch last year — there is not enough money to fund the construction of a new branch, much less fund its annual operating costs.
The proposal for the North Boulder branch appears in the 1995 and 2007 library master plans. In the late 1990s, the city got a three-acre parcel for the branch at Broadway and Four-Mile Canyon Creek, as part of the Safeway development, and City Council set aside about $1.6 million for the library from development excise taxes (paid by developers to address service demands created by their developments).
According to an Oct. 8 memo to the Boulder Library Commission from City Manager Jane Brautigam, in 2002 city council “supported earmarking the DET funds for a period of five years.” Five years later, she writes, the matter was not returned to council, so the earmark expired.
But council member Lisa Morzel, who campaigned to secure that library branch, says she was on council in 2002 and doesn’t recall any five-year sunset clause being attached to that money.
“I would have never agreed to that,” she told Boulder Weekly. “I am committed to seeing that money go to a north Boulder library. The city made a commitment to do that in 1995. I think it’s long past due that the citizens who worked on that North Boulder plan and who live in North Boulder be given the library they were promised. … Any idea that that money will go without a fight is wrong.”
Similarly, Aaron Brockett, president of the Holiday Neighborhood Homeowners Association in North Boulder, says his neighbors will be upset if that funding is used for other library needs.
“I’m definitely unhappy to hear that they are trying to take away the dedicated funding for that,” he says.
Former library Director Marcelee Gralapp says the DET funds contributed by the developers for the library branch should stay in that area of the city, “because [the developers] are causing the growth that would require the additional services.”
Others, including library Director Tony Tallent and Library Commission Chair Stephen Topping, say that while the matter is still under discussion, it may not be realistic to build a new branch without the money to operate it.
Tallent says the $1.7 million is still earmarked for the library system, and must be used for costs “attributable to growth.”
The branch would cost $4 million to construct, plus another $500,000 a year to operate. “Do you want to close a rec center to have that branch?” Topping asks. “It doesn’t seem reasonable to build that branch anytime soon.”
Other options, Tallent says, include opening a small service center where patrons could drop off or pick up books, but neighbors counter that north Boulder is home to low-income families that need a community gathering place, a computer lab and other resources.
Morzel may float a ballot initiative for the fall election that would authorize the city to continue using a portion of revenue from an existing 0.38 percent tax for libraries beyond its expiration in 2011. Those funds would not just be used for the operation of a North Boulder branch, she says, but for sustaining the operation and desired service at other branches, as well.
Meanwhile, city spokesperson Patrick von Keyserling told Boulder Weekly that city records staff are working this week to produce written evidence that the city council enacted the sunset clause in 2002.
“To date, there hasn’t been any paper trail that the allocation happened or unhappened,” Topping says.
“I don’t think anyone knows what’s true,” adds Library Commission member Jim Zigarelli.
“But we are struggling to operate what we have, let alone do something new. We’re all in favor of extending service to North Boulder. It’s just a question of how to get there.”