Sno-Isle pins hopes on levy increase

The Sno-Isle library system is seeing tough times, from the inside out.

More people are using the libraries in the 21-branch system in Island and Snohomish counties, and officials from Sno-Isle Libraries say the sputtering economy is the main reason why.

But the library system is itself ailing in this economic downturn. It’s facing a $2.5 million shortfall, and library officials are freezing salaries, cutting the pay for their highest-paid employees and chopping the budgets for new materials and equipment. Officials are also pushing back the replacement of a library computer system until 2011.

Still, it won’t be enough to keep services untouched.

“All of these will happen even if the levy passes,” said Jonalyn Woolf-Ivory, library director for Sno-Isle Libraries.

To help cover the shortfall, the library system is seeking a levy increase on next Tuesday’s ballot. If approved by voters, the district’s levy rate will increase by 9 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation, moving from 31 cents to 40 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.

For the owner of a $300,000 home, the increase would be an additional $27 a year in new property taxes.

The proposal was based on what the library system heard from residents in the two-county area it serves, Woolf-Ivory said.

“People really don’t want to see services reduced,” she said.

The library system is facing a “Catch-22.” Revenues are declining while the demand for services is on the rise.

Libraries are seeing more and more people come in as they search for leads on jobs or tap resources for updating resumes and improving job skills. More people are also turning to their libraries for no-cost entertainment, from books to DVDs and more.

On the South End end, increased library demand is reflected in higher circulation numbers.

Freeland has seen a 3-percent increase in circulation from 2008 to 2009, while it has risen by 5 percent in Langley. Clinton has seen a whopping 30-percent increase in circulation during the past year.

Library officials say the economy is the big factor in the rising popularity of local libraries.

“I don’t think there’s anybody on the board, or those who are on the staff, who don’t know someone laid off, someone with reduced hours, or who have had an impact on their retirement,” Woolf-Ivory said.

The library system could have sought a higher levy request, but rejected the idea, she added.

“The board felt the 9-cent increase is a modest increase,” she said.

If the levy is approved, current services will be maintained. If it fails, library hours will be lost and spending will be cut.

“On all of Whidbey Island, we’re looking at a closure of one evening a week,” Woolf-Ivory said.

There will likely be cuts of four to five hours per week, per library.

If the levy fails and that happens, she added, library officials will reduce the hours when libraries are the least busy.

“Any reduction of hours will be felt by the community — I’ve heard that a lot,” she said.

In past elections, Sno-Isle’s strongest support has come from south and central Whidbey Island.

That may be, in part, because islanders are “library shoppers,” and regularly visit more than one branch to enjoy books, programs, discussions and other activities, said library spokeswoman Mary Kelly.

Due to the makeup of the library district, and the fact that Langley contracts for library service, voters in Langley will not vote on the levy increase.

More information on the library levy is available on the Sno-Isle Web site at

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