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Denver Public Library wants to ask voters to pay higher property taxes for improvements

DPL wants the city to increase the property tax by 1.5 mills to raise $30 million a year. That is the equivalent of about $50 a year on a $469,000 home.

DENVER — Even the price of free is increasing -- at least, services that you might think are free that really are not.

For example, trash pickup is not free. Property taxes usually pay for that.

The same with using your local library. Property tax covers the cost of you paying nothing to check out a book or DVD.

So why do Denver Public Libraries need $30 million more a year?

"Limited funding over a sustained period of time has certainly impacted the operations of the Denver Public Library," Denver city librarian Michelle Jeske told a city council committee on Monday. "We've been underfunded for a really long time. Decades."

Jeske made a pitch to city council on Monday to get a property tax increase placed on Denver's November ballot.

The library wants the city to increase the property tax by 1.5 mills to raise $30 million a year. That is the equivalent of about $50 a year on a $469,000 home.

"I'm sure you're wondering what we would do with $30 million. We would invest in our communities by providing more access to technology, programs and services, more books and other parts of our collection and we would be expanding hours to include nights and weekends," Jeske said in a news conference before the meeting.

If paying for additional library fees sounds familiar, it is. Just different.

Last November, Denver voters approved a series of general obligation bonds that included money for Denver libraries.

The bonds will pay for two new libraries, one in Globeville and the other in Westwood. They will also pay for renovation of the Hampden branch.

Denver libraries are funded by the city's general fund, unlike library districts, like Arapahoe, which have their own line-item on property tax bills.

"Those bonds are wonderful and we're delighted to have them, but they don't come close to helping take care of the deferred maintenance that we have out there and the additional library location needs," said Jeske.

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If this gets put on the ballot, at least voters will have the final say.

Last month, in an 8-5 vote, Denver city council approved a new fee for trash pickup. That's on top of the property tax money that normally goes toward trash pickup.

"We just, a couple weeks ago, had the conversation about volume-based trash pricing," council president Stacie Gilmore said during Monday's meeting.

Gilmore was one of the five who voted against the volume-based pricing that starts in 2023.

Denver residents will pay $9, $13 or $21 a month for trash pickup, depending on the size of the trash cart. The fee will also cover weekly recycling and compost pickup.

"People paying for a service that they thought was free, and we know all the ins and outs of that, but at the end of the day, they're going to get a bill," said Gilmore of the trash pickup fee.

The only decision in front of council on the library issue, is whether or not the library property tax request makes it on the November ballot. Council cannot unilaterally approve this issue.

"We don't want to take away that right for voters to share their perspective and vote on it, but council needs to do our due diligence to ask the questions and make sure it's ready to go to the ballot," said Gilmore.

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"We recognize that this is a tough time for folks, and it's a tougher times for folks that we hope to help even more with additional services," said Jeske.

Jeske said that if this makes it on the ballot, the library will help promote Denver's expansion of the senior and disabled property tax exemption.

"We also think that we can mitigate the concern for lower-income folks with the property tax rebate program," said Jeske.

Seniors older than 65, who have lived in their home for more than 10 years can qualify for a reduce property tax. The deadline is Friday to fill out a form and return it to your county assessor. 

Denver has expanded the property tax exemption to also include families with children, earning up to 60% of the median income.

"You could anticipate we will be reporting back regularly how we have used these funds and the benefits that the community has seen because of that. That’s a commitment that we'll make."

The library has until August 29 to get city council to approve the ballot question.

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