Reductions begin at Sno-Isle libraries

Oak Harbor Library patrons Terel Bellinger, 4; Marquillias Bellinger, 6; Tiara Quallas, 2; and True Gilpin, 3 months; listen as their caregiver, Tammy Howard of All God
Oak Harbor Library patrons Terel Bellinger, 4; Marquillias Bellinger, 6; Tiara Quallas, 2; and True Gilpin, 3 months; listen as their caregiver, Tammy Howard of All God's Childcare Center, reads to them. She said the library is a regular stop on the children's outings.
— image credit: Marcie Miller

Grant Gerber has been a Sno-Isle library cardholder since he was 3 years old.

"It was a big day for him when he got it," said Grant's mother, Liz Gerber. "He showed everyone."

On a recent sunny day Grant pulled his library card out of his Spiderman wallet and proudly presented it to librarian Anne Murphy. Now a mature 5-year-old, Grant was checking out a stack of books on his favorite subject, sea animals. He was also researching mosquitoes, after being bitten on a camping trip.

Grant, his little brother Gabe and parents Liz and Eric Gerber are just four of the estimated 1,000 North Whidbey Islanders who will use the Oak Harbor branch of the Sno-Isle Library System on an average day. And there are hundreds more who use the Sno-Isle libraries in Clinton, Langley and Freeland.

After Jan. 1, library patrons will see changes in services, as the Sno-Isle Regional Library System Board of Trustees has announced what it hopes will be temporary cuts to the 2004 budget in order to meet an $800,000 budget shortfall.

Library district voters in February failed to pass a levy allowing a 50 cent per $1,000 property tax levy. The measure passed in Island County, but was voted down in Snohomish County. The library asked voters for an increase from 46 cents, because Initiative 747 limits tax increases to 1 percent without a public vote.

Budget figures from 2003 show 88 percent of the library's $26 million budget comes from general property taxes.

Library system officials say they hope the cuts will be temporary, as the library system will put the levy vote back on the ballot in November.

Cuts affecting Island County libraries beginning Jan. 1 and the amount to be saved are:

n One-week closure of all branches and the service center, $200,000.

n Reduction of the materials

budget, $200,000.

n Reduced salary increases, $165,000.

n Limited replacement of staff vacancies and no new staff positions, $75,000.

n Charge for printing, $50,000.

n Further reductions in training budget, $25,000.

n Saturday closure of the Clinton Library, $3,400.

Jonalyn Woolf-Ivory, library director, predicts Sno-Isle will have to go to voters every three to five years for permission to restore the levy rate to keep up with expenses.

Normally, by keeping the levy rate constant, more money is collected as property values increase. I-747 reversed that process, with entities such as libraries and fire districts mandated to keep the amount of money collected level, rather than the levy rate. Unless voters continue to approve levy increases, the library property tax revenue increases will stay at about 1 percent, as allowed by I-747.

Mary Campbell, managing librarian at the Oak Harbor library, said while no one wants cuts, she feels they were made as responsibly as possible.

Like many, she was disappointed that Island County librarians should be subject to budget cuts, when Island County voters approved the levy increase.

"We're not trying to punish anyone," she said of the cuts.

The library will start charging for printing materials from computers, which she said brings it in line with other printed materials, such as from copy machines.

"Our only rule now is that they have to read all of it," she said.

Patrons and staff will be notified well in advance of the one week system-wide closure, which has not been set yet. Staff will not be paid during the closure, which is where most of the $200,000 savings will come from.

"It won't be during finals week," Campbell said.

The Oak Harbor library won't see any reduction in weekly hours, such as Clinton, which will be closed on Saturdays.

Campbell said the Oak Harbor library is a valuable asset in the community.

"The library is a wonderful equalizer," she said. "It gives everyone the opportunity to get information to improve their lives. It's a lifelong institution of education."

At a public budget meeting in June, library patrons expressed "loud and clear" their desire to keep the library's focus on community service.

Mary Kelly, community relations director for Sno-Isle said the library system will continue to hold public meetings as it prepares for the next levy vote.

"We heard over and over that people didn't understand the budget situation," she said.

Eleven community meetings will be held throughout Snohomish and Island counties in September and October in an attempt to explain the budget process more clearly. One lesson the library administration learned from the levy failure: "We've learned to over-communicate," Kelly said.

Meetings are planned in Freeland and Oak Harbor, but no date has been set.

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