Boiseans already pay $6 million a year to run the library system, and have received no estimate on how that number may grow

Lindsay Atkinson Articles

The city of Boise began its current collection of library buildings when it moved its main structure from the Carnegie Library site, first occupied in 1905, to the current Capitol Boulevard site, first occupied in 1973. Since then, the library system has expanded with the addition of the Library! at Collister and Library! at Hillcrest branches in 2008 and the later addition of the Library! at Cole & Ustick in 2009. The library system as we currently know it was completed in 2017 with the opening of Library! at Bown Crossing.

This library system currently costs Boiseans millions of dollars to operate each year. With the potential addition of a new—and larger—main library facility, annual operation costs are surely set to grow.

Over the past five years, the city of Boise has spent an average of $5,361,691 annually on library operations.

The cost for each of those five years has changed dramatically, due to the addition of the new Library! at Bown Crossing branch in the midst of that time period. In 2018, the latest fiscal year for which we have data available, the cost for running the entire library system was $6,033,430. Back in 2014, before the addition of the fourth library branch, the annual operating cost was $4,833,078. For both these years, the cost presented is the true bill that the taxpayers had to pay for, with all the revenue that the libraries took in removed from all their expenditures.

See all revenue and expenditures for the main library and four branches here.

The $6 million annual operating cost for the current library system is already a staggering difference from the price before the addition of the Library! at Bown Crossing—and it is only set to grow with the addition of a new main library building.

Over the past year, Boiseans have heard numerous cost estimates for the construction of a new library. The estimates have ranged from $85 million to $104 million.

The inconsistency of a final figure is troubling. But it is also troubling that the city has not given Boiseans any estimate for the annual cost to run the library system once the project is completed. How much will it cost annually to run this proposed new library?

Why can’t the city tell us? Because the final design is a moving target. For instance, the operations cost for the facility will be highly affected by the inclusion of an 18,000 square feet events center. At the end of 2018, to bring down construction costs, the city removed the events center from the design. However, the city may add the events center on in a second phase, after the library has been constructed.

Boiseans have no clear picture of the cost of running a new main library, because they have no clear picture of the final proposed project.

Similar lack of planning has hurt a Treasure Valley city in the past. When Nampa opened its new main library—replacing its old facility—in 2015, it was not prepared for the increased operation costs of a larger facility. The library’s budget could not pay for the increased amount of staff needed to run a new facility, three times the size of the old one. As a result, the library had to cut reading programs to cope with the understaffing.

Plus, Nampa’s new library facility saw a utility bill spike—even with its energy efficient features. The new facility had extra amenities that were not part of the old facility, like electrical charges for plaza lights and water for a fountain, that increased their utility costs.

As Boise officials and residents consider the city’s proposed new library project, they should learn from Nampa. Everyone can benefit from an estimate for annual operations. The only way the city can come to this estimate is if they settle soon on a final plan. The construction cost of the facility is just one factor. There are many other costs that come with it. The annual operations cost is one price that residents will have to pay for years after any potential new main library is constructed.