Staff proposed a workaround for library funding that would keep Boulder's Carnegie Library of Local History operating at current levels, and council seized on it Tuesday night during a study session on the proposed 2019 spending plan for the city.
Under a budget that is 9.3 percent smaller than last year's, one of the suggested cuts was to Carnegie's hours of operation, from 25 per week to four. The community of Carnegie users — which includes a number of area historians and researchers — were vocal in their opposition, sending dozens of emails to council.
Staff cut ongoing citywide expenses by $5.6 million for 2019, above and beyond the $4 million projected budget shortfall as sales tax revenue flatlines. Because of that, there is some wiggle room to instead increase funding to the library, which has emerged as a priority for the council in the face of continued demand and millions in unfunded operations and capital expenditures.
"We heard loud and clear from community that Carnegie was too important to cut," said Mayor Suzanne Jones. "Given the fact that we haven't been keeping up with funding for library over several years, this is something we should be funding."
One of the proposed reductions is an archivist positions at Carnegie. Councilman Bob Yates suggested that the adjacent Museum of Boulder lend staff to the library: "This may be a good opportunity for us to save us money and still have Carnegie open as many hours as the community wants."
Some council members pushed back on that, citing the desire to keep as many workers under the city umbrella as possible, but others were supportive of exploring synergies between the two institutions.
Councilman Sam Weaver, who was not present, emailed his thoughts on using funds allocated for reserves for needs such as the library. City Manager Jane Brautigam has set a goal of 20 percent reserves (about $26 million) by 2020.
"My personal opinion is that we have some pressing operational needs in our library system, and to me those are more important than hitting a 20 percent reserve level in our fund balances," Weaver wrote.
Some council members appeared to echo those concerns.
The Government Finance Officers Association, a multinational group of finance officers, has said that 16.7 percent reserves is the minimum needed for "best practice," but Boulder's Chief Financial Officer Cheryl Pattelli said that 20 percent is standard for neighboring cities. Boulder's large reserves helped it recover more quickly from the 2013 flood, Brautigam has contended.
The city will have to dip into reserves for $3.7 million to fund continuing work on Boulder's efforts to create a municipal utility. Council agreed to continue discussions on reserves at the Oct. 2 meeting, which will be the first public hearing on the proposed budget.
Other cuts include vacant, non-officer positions in the police department (which will be adding a police officer if the budget is approved), overlapping positions in the recently combined housing and human service department, and expiring short-term positions in the open space department.