Among the most important elements of the agreement between the City of Boulder and the Library District Board of Trustees is who will own the main Boulder Public Library, seen here, among other buildings. Credit: BKingFoto
Among the most important elements of the agreement between the City of Boulder and the Library District Board of Trustees is who will own the main Boulder Public Library, seen here, among other buildings. Credit: BKingFoto

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. 

John Herrick is senior reporter for Boulder Reporting Lab, covering housing, transportation, policing and local government. He previously covered the state Capitol for The Colorado Independent and environmental policy for He is interested in stories about people, power and fairness. Email:

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  1. Thank you for covering this subject. If there is any follow up reporting hopefully the effect of the gigantic increase in assessed property values in the county will be included in how much money the Library District will receive. From the 9/5/23 Library District meeting packet on page 44 is a memo from the Boulder County Assessor notifying the district that the assessed value of properties in the district for 2023 is $6.5B which is an increase of $1.5B from the previous year. I am assuming that is so the district can budget accordingly. I am not sure how much more actual money that entails. I am not a tax or library district expert so I might be reading the memo incorrectly.

  2. There is nothing “awkward” about a landlord/tenant relationship. In fact, Boulder is chock-full of those relationships. That’s a fig leaf for what the Library District has the temerity to ask for: that Boulder taxpayers hand over buildings our tax dollars paid for. Why do they want to own these buildings outright? To use it to raise more money through loans, mortgages, etc. And what happens to the collateral (the library buildings themselves) if they default on any of these loans, etc? Well, they have to be sold off to. How does the Library District suggest dealing with that possibility? Giving the City of Boulder the “right of first refusal” to buy back the buildings WE ALREADY PAID FOR at market rates. Boulder should not sell these buildings. Boulder should rent them out to the District for at least an intitial period (say five to ten years) until the District can prove it can run itself effectively and within the very significant budget it will receive each year ($20 million) from our taxes.

    1. I totally agree with you and I have written to the city council raising many of your points. This would be a real mistake on the part of the city council if they go through with the recommendations of the “Staff”. This newly assembled group of trustees are completely unproven in their new positions. They should first prove they can effectively and efficiently manage the new District. Apparently they are still working on new software, compensation packages and their annual budget (amazing to me that they now want to take over these properties when they don’t even have their software in place)!
      I think that BRL should dig deeper on this issue and question what is the rush to get this passed by the City Council Progressives and the “Staff”when the group has yet to prove they are capable in the first place? This is actually quite shocking.

  3. James Murphy, I wonder if the staff who wrote this memo expect to be moving into new jobs at the library district. Perhaps a a conflict of interest in pushing for certain outcomes.

    1. Would it make sense to sell the buildings on a long term deal especially if the city is planning to give away the land under two of the buildings for no return? Then the city taxpayers would get some return on the decades of paying for the buildings and land.

  4. Very curious to read about this proposal and what may be the motivation behind it. In light of the very disturbing actions that some states are experiencing regarding the removal of books and information, I question this proposal. Looking deeper into the connections, reasons, and long term effects of losing control of the Library should be taken seriously. I recommend looking into the affiliations and monetary reasons for this.

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