By Caitlin Switzer

MONTROSE—The survey goes out this month, and is available online right now; those who respond will have the chance to weigh in on the future of the Montrose Library, a facility that has been recognized for excellence both in Colorado and nationwide. If survey respondents are supportive, the library may explore putting a mill levy increase before local voters in an upcoming election. If responses to the survey do not support seeking an increase, further closures and cuts to materials and services will most certainly result.

When the League of Women Voters welcomed Linda Gann and Jeff Riddle of the Montrose Library District Board of Trustees to present information to the public on May 7, it was fitting that the well-attended event took place in the Montrose Library Community Room. The comfortable and inviting space offered one more proof of the enormous value the library brings to Montrose and the surrounding area.

“It’s awesome to be here in the Library,” Gann told the crowd. Montrose may not be a big city, but our library is among the state’s best, she said, and it is in financial trouble.

“The Library District has done a remarkable job of weathering the Great Recession,” Gann said, “but at some point, using reserve funds for operations will no longer be viable.”

Gann offered background on the library and the resources it provides. The Montrose Library District was formed by voters in 1967, and presently serves 40,000 patrons in its Paradox, Naturita, Montrose and Bookmobile locations. Along with 29 public computers used more than 34,000 times a year, the library district has over the past year welcomed 2,000 people to use the quiet working spaces, 580 groups to use the meeting rooms, and answered 17,000 patron questions. Books and resources were checked out more than 315,000 times last year. Library statistics also show that 650 kids joined the annual summer reading program last year, 1,350 story times took place, and 19,000 people took part in more than 800 programs for children. Close to 4,000 patrons attended library programs targeted at adults.

Over the years the District has earned impressive honors, from statewide recognition of the Children’s Summer Badge program and its work with first graders to being one of five libraries in the Nation to receive the National Medal in a ceremony at the White House.

“We have invested in innovation, to provide the best possible return to you, our patrons,” Gann said.

And yet, despite the obvious community appreciation for and need of the library’s services and programs, funding has dropped to levels that have made tough choices inevitable. Ninety percent of financing for the Montrose Library is derived from the 3.0 mill levy currently in place. However, though the District has never taken on debt and shows a Return on Investment rate of $5.33 for every tax dollar spent, revenues have dropped drastically. In 2011, the average homeowner paid $45.52 in taxes to the Library District, while the median business paid $372.83. In 2015, residential real estate valuations have declined by 19 percent, and the amount of tax generated by the average homeowner for the library saw a corresponding drop to $37.04. Overall, revenue has dropped 21 percent over the past five years.

Because the library took care to build reserves during the good years, those funds have helped to cushion some of the economic impacts, though many deep cuts have also been made, Riddle said. Weekly open hours have been cut by 11, there are six fewer staffers, and the materials budget has been reduced by 34 percent.

“The bookmobile now visits locations every other week, instead of once a week,” he said.

Shelving is already done entirely by volunteers, Montrose Library Development Officer Amy McBride noted.

McBride and Reference Librarian Tania Hajjar were both on hand at the League Forum to answer questions.

“We have a very strong library with a loyal and devoted staff,” Hajjar said. “We enjoy a lot of support; this is a very busy facility. People use all aspects of our library, from traditional materials to computers. We have a lot of regular, grateful patrons who really appreciate that we are here.

“We have a commitment in our collection development to have something for everybody,” she continued, “regardless of our own philosophies. We support each person’s right to read and research what they want.”

Locals are being asked to weigh in on the future of the Montrose Library via the library’s survey: