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Langley will vote on joining library district

Langley voters will decide early next month whether the city will join the Sno-Isle Libraries district.

The switch wouldn’t affect current library services, only the way they’re funded, library officials say.

Langley has contracted with Sno-Isle to provide library services since 1961. The city’s contract fee for this year is about $48,000. Next year’s contract would be $51,396, said Mary Kelly, a Sno-Isle spokeswoman.

A yes vote on the Nov. 2 ballot measure will give city residents a voice in the library decision-making process and remove it from the ups and downs of city finances, Kelly said.

It also would increase taxes. But if the measure fails, hard questions may be asked about whether the city should continue to fund library services at a time when the economy has the city in a bind, Mayor Paul Samuelson said.

“Everybody wants the library to stay in that location,” he said Thursday. “But given the financial situation we’re in, the library maybe isn’t a core service that we should be providing.”

“The city council will have to decide whether to continue to finance the library,” Samuelson added.

Dwindling revenues and over-budget expenses are plaguing the city, which also is about to undergo an early state audit brought on by pressure from residents who have demanded an accounting of city finances.

“Annexation would save money in the general fund, and provide increased revenue for the library,” Samuelson said. He said that relieving the city of its library contract might also free up enough money to pay for needed maintenance on the library building itself, which the city owns.

City residents currently pay indirectly for library services with taxes and fees that go into the city’s general fund.

If the city annexes to the library district, residents would pay an additional

40 cents per $1,000 assessment currently levied for library services in unincorporated Island and Snohomish counties, and by cities in the two counties that have annexed to the district.

That means owners of a home assessed at $300,000 would pay $120. By state law, the levy is capped at a maximum rate of 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, Kelly said.

“It would ensure stable library funding,” she said. “It’s a way for the city to use its money in other ways, and the library wouldn’t be at the whim of whatever the city’s financial situation is.”

According to the terms of the city’s contract, Sno-Isle provides staff, equipment, materials and library services. The city owns and maintains the building at the corner of Second Street and Camano Avenue.

The city’s volunteer library board would continue to oversee operation of the building after annexation.

Kelly said annexation would mean that library funding would be equalized between city residents and those outside the city who use the library.

“Annexation would ensure stable library service long-term for the community,” she added.

The city’s volunteer library board has recommended annexation, and the city council approved an annexation agreement with the library district this past summer and placed it on next month’s ballot.

A simple majority vote at the polls will decide the issue. Only Langley residents will be eligible to vote on the proposal.

Langley and Stanwood are the only two cities in the Sno-Isle system that have not annexed to the library district, Kelly said. On Whidbey Island, Oak Harbor annexed in 1983 and Coupeville annexed in 1999.

Clinton, Freeland and Camano Island residents pay the property-tax levy to maintain their libraries, because they are in unincorporated areas.

Sno-Isle services 21 libraries. Seventeen cities in the two counties have opted for annexation, Kelly said.

The original section of the 88-year-old Langley Library was built in 1922 and recently was included on the city’s register of historic buildings. The library was expanded twice, in 1980 and 1994.

Today, head librarian Vicky Welfare and a staff of nine circulate an average of 11,000 volumes per month and serve more than

5,900 registered patrons in and out of the city.

Library resources include dozens of online informational databases and various media formats, as well as the latest best-sellers.

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