By Michael Howell
All three of the valley’s public libraries are facing a funding crisis that could lead to closing their doors or otherwise drastically reducing services if they do not receive their usual tax revenues in the near future. Tax disbursements to the districts have not been timely and the ones that have been received are considerably less than past payments.
In an e-mail to the county commissioners dated January 3, 2014, Wendy Campbell, Director of the Darby Community Public Library, said she was “extremely concerned” about the tax revenue remittance from the county.
Campbell states that at this time last year the library had received $32,000 in tax revenue, but as of January 3 it had only received $4,000. The library did not receive September remittances until November and those only totaled $234. The library has received nothing since then.
“With our monthly bills totaling between $8,000 and $10,000, it should be clear that this is a fiscally untenable situation for us, and we cannot continue operating for very long,” wrote Campbell. “We realize the county treasurer’s office is going through a difficult transition. However, the library operates on a frugal budget, and we cannot continue to operate without tax revenues.”
Campbell states that she is also concerned about the accuracy of the mill levy accounts and requests verification that the mill levy amounts have been assessed correctly.
The City of Hamilton, which handles the accounting for the Bitterroot Public Library in Hamilton, recently wrote the county expressing similar concerns about their tax remittances, including the library. They also asked for verification of the mill levy amounts being assessed for both the city and the library.
Trista Smith, Bitterroot Valley Public Library Director, said that the last remittances they received were received in November for the month of September. She noted that half of the library’s yearly funds usually come in the December remittances.
Smith said the district was very fortunate to have a generous community and that private donations could keep the library running for a few months.
“But if we don’t get a significant amount from the county in the next few months we will have to scale back and perhaps reduce the number of days we are open,” said Smith.
“We are all very concerned,” said Renee McGrath, Acting Director of the North Valley Public Library in Stevensville. McGrath gave the Bitterroot Star this summation of tax receipts for the district comparing 2012 receipts to 2103:
Aug 2012: $17,143 (July tax payment); Aug 2013: $8259 (July tax payment)
Sept 2012: $4810 (Aug tax payment); Sept 2013: $0
Oct 2012: $1293 (Sept tax payment); Oct 2013: $4194 (Aug tax payment)
Nov 2012: $1856 (Oct tax payment); Nov 2013: $52 (Sept tax payment?)
Dec 2012: $125,752; Dec 2013: $0
McGrath said that, unlike the Bitterroot Public Library in Hamilton, and the Darby Community Public Library, NVPL is an independent library district, which means that it is not a city or county department, and the Ravalli County Treasurer’s Office simply collects taxes and funnels them to the district (as they would for a school district).
“So if the problems in the treasurer’s office aren’t remedied soon, we will have no one to bail us out,” said McGrath.
She said that the library usually receives close to half of its annual remittances in December and relies on that to get through the first six months of the year.
McGrath also said that she has called the Treasurer’s Office several times to express her concerns but has never gotten a response. She called the situation “very disturbing. Especially since she said that she has been calling individuals at night to reassure them that their tax payments are being processed, but not calling the organizations she is responsible to.”