City of Boulder officials are recommending giving its library buildings to the newly formed library district for free. This move would result in the city having less control over the buildings compared to leasing them, and would also relieve the city of its responsibility for their upkeep.
Voters in 2022 approved a ballot measure to create a property-tax funded library district across much of Boulder County. The change means a seven-member Library District Board of Trustees will manage the city’s libraries, rather than the City of Boulder.
As soon as next month, the Boulder City Council will hash out an intergovernmental agreement with the Library District Board of Trustees, laying the groundwork for what role the city will play in overseeing the new Boulder Public Library District.
Perhaps the agreement’s most significant element is the fate of the library buildings owned by the City of Boulder. These include the Boulder Public Library and Carnegie Library for Local History in downtown Boulder, the George Reynolds Branch Library in South Boulder, and the to-be-constructed North Boulder Branch Library.
City officials are recommending giving these buildings to the library district at no cost, as taxpayers have already paid for them. For the library buildings that the city leases — Meadows Branch and the Corner Library — the leases would be transferred over to the district.
City officials said transferring ownership of the properties to the library district is a better option than being its landlord. This would make the district responsible for paying for “insurance, upkeep, maintenance, and improvements.” It would also help avoid a “landlord-tenant relationship” that could lead to “unnecessary entanglements for the city and the District,” according to a recent city staff memo.
The library district would benefit from owning the buildings, because it could leverage them as assets to secure financing for renovations and other projects.
“In the long run, ownership will help the library district with future capital costs,” said Joni Teter, a library district trustee and member of the Boulder Library Champions, which advocated for the formation of a library district. “If you own the buildings, you have more financial tools available to finance needed capital repairs rather than going out to the voters and saying we want a tax increase for a bond.”
The Boulder City Council is scheduled to weigh in on the intergovernmental agreement next week. Some councilmembers oppose the transfer of the buildings.
“At the very least the City should have some control over the future disposition of the assets that we are donating to them,” Councilmember Mark Wallach said in an email to his colleagues this week. “The easiest way to do this is through a lease of the properties” to the district, he added.
If the district decides to sell a library property in the future, city staff suggest including a provision in the agreement that would give the city the first opportunity to buy the property.
Regardless of the outcome, the Boulder City Council and Board of County Commissioners will still maintain some level of control over the district. Under state law, the elected officials have the final say over who is appointed to the district’s board of trustees. They can also vote to remove members.
The seven-member Library District Board of Trustees has been meeting regularly since they were seated in May. Since then, the trustees have been setting up software systems, finalizing a policy for compensation and benefits, and drafting its first annual budget. Teter said the trustees plan to release proposed budget in October.