Libraries want more money

Langley Library staff member Rob Noble shelves books this week. Sno-Isle libraries are looking to raise more money with a levy early next year. - Matt Johnson
Langley Library staff member Rob Noble shelves books this week. Sno-Isle libraries are looking to raise more money with a levy early next year.
— image credit: Matt Johnson

When the economy slumps and revenues dry up, even librarians get the blues.

Officials in the Sno-Isle Library system are considering floating a new funding levy to compensate for revenues lost due to Initiative 747, a 2001 ballot measure that limits property tax increases.

Prior to the passage of I-747, Sno-Isle levied at an annual rate of 50 cents for every $1,000 of property value. Due to the measure, which limits property tax revenue collection to an annual 1 percent increase, Sno-Isle collected about $300,000 less this year than it could have pre-I-747.

Mary Kelly, Sno-Isle's community relations manager, said the measure also reduces the library system's levy rate. The rise of property values in Island County is greater than 1 percent each year, which forced Sno-Isle to cut its 2002 levy rate to 46.7 cents per $1,000.

In past years, when taxing districts were allowed up to a 6 percent increase each year, Sno-Isle typically took a 3 percent hike, Kelly said.

The idea of going out for a new levy -- which would peg the rate at 50 cents again -- may have received a boost from a recent poll that found 79 percent of Island County voters would support a library levy at that rate.

There would be a small annual difference in the cost of the levy to property owners. At a 50 cent levy rate, someone owning a $150,000 home in Island County would pay $75 toward supporting libraries, about $5 dollars more than this year.

According to Kelly, the library system's board of directors is considering putting a levy on a special election ballot as early as next spring, which would allow Sno-Isle to start collecting increased revenues beginning the following year. If passed, the levy issue would probably need to be renewed from time to time to compensate for rising property values.

"The amount of revenue we collect will continue to drop, because we're not able to collect the full amount," Kelly said. "This would be a way to restore our funding and maintain the current level of service people have come to expect."

A 50 cent levy rate is the maximum allowed library districts by state law.

Kelly said one of the reasons Sno-Isle libraries have continued to function relatively well despite shrinking revenue streams has to do with the organization itself. No staff cutbacks were necessary at any libraries, including the five Sno-Isle has on Whidbey Island. Kelly credits solid management within the system's libraries.

Nonetheless, Kelly said, it will be difficult to maintain a high level of service, as well as integrate new technologies, without a levy restoring Sno-Isle to its previous level of funding.

"One of the things we're finding is that the price of the things we need in the libraries to provide the level of service that people expect continues to go up," Kelly said.

Along with the support for the levy found in the recent survey, Kelly said library patrons have expressed satisfaction with the quality and kinds of service being provided by Sno-Isle. The library system serves more than 500,000 residents throughout Island and Snohomish counties. More than 90 percent of those surveyed said they are either extremely or very satisfied with the services they get when visiting a Sno-Isle library.

Kelly said the high level of support for a proposed levy can be attributed in part to the immediate relationship the library system has with taxpayers. Because the system doesn't rely on city or county budgets for funding, libraries can go straight to voters for support, as the Island County hospital district did for the continuation of its emergency services levy.

"The partnership that we have with the taxpayers is direct," Kelly said.

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