Libraries seek additional funding to maintain services

By Nolan DeGarlais, News Editor

In a library system announcement sent out Tuesday, Dec. 12, Sno-Isle Libraries announced their Board of Trustees unanimously voted to place a measure on the April 2018 ballot requesting maintained funding for libraries serving Snohomish and Island counties. The vote took place at a regular Board of Trustees meeting on Dec. 11 headed by Board President Marti Anamosa.

“Libraries are vital to our communities. Addressing the levy rate now enables the library to continue providing the resources that are so important to our communities and customers,” Anamosa said during the meeting.

Currently, Sno-Isle Libraries gets 98 percent of its funding from a property tax levy on Snohomish and Island counties. The predictability of revenue coming from this property tax levy helps Sno-Isle Libraries in their budgeting, as the libraries know the relative amount of money they will receive through this medium.

However, costs have been rising more rapidly than revenue for the past several years, prompting Sno-Isle Libraries to seek further income.

The resolution passed by the trustees asks voters to approve a resolution raising the property tax levy to 47 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value for 2019 and beyond. This would be a nine cent raise from the expected 2018 levy of 38 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value; for example, an owner of a $300,000 home would experience an increase in property taxes of $27 a year.

If voters approve the levy, it would be the first time in nine years the levy supporting the Sno-Isle Libraries is increased.

“We last went to the voters in 2009,” Executive Director of Sno-Isle Libraries Jonalyn Woolf-Ivory said. “Those were tough times and we promised that if our communities said, ‘Yes,’ we wouldn’t come back for at least five years and we’ve stretched that five years to nine. We made good on our promise by using what was necessary to maintain services and reserved the rest until needed.”

For the past three years, Sno-Isle Libraries has had to use money from their levy stabilization reserves built up since 2009 to balance their budget. This budgeting has allowed them to maintain current library services. However, those reserves will have been used up by 2019, meaning some library services would have to be cut to accommodate the absence of increased levy revenue.

In surveys conducted by Sno-Isle Libraries staff, the community seems open to an increased levy to maintain library services.

“The results from phone, email and online surveys, as well as three open-house events, indicate to me that the community wants an opportunity to vote,” Anamosa said.

Library services will be maintained at their current levels if voters approve the ballot measure in April 2018. A rejection of the levy would mean budget cuts beginning in 2019 which would bring a reduction in library services. Further budget cuts would be necessary for the years following 2019 if the libraries could not secure any additional income.

“We project that the 2019 budget would need to be cut by $2 million,” Woolf-Ivory said.

These budget cuts would bring a reduction in many utilities such as library operation hours, librarians, library community services and new books. This would also result in a reduction in the number of and longer consumer wait times for print and digital books, movies and music. Libraries would no longer be able to operate on Sundays in addition to having fewer hours of operation during the other six days of the week. The announcement specified the budget cuts would severely harm the ability of Sno-Isle Libraries to meet requests and expectations of communities and customers.

Sno-Isle Libraries operates 22 community libraries across Snohomish and Island counties as well as a traveling bookmobile. Outreach and online services are also available to more than 750,000 people in those counties and there are currently over 476,000 library cardholders who use a variety of those services each year. In 2016 alone there were 7,280 programs for children and families attended by over 221,000 people.

In addition to these services for the general community, Sno-Isle Libraries also does a significant amount of outreach in Edmonds School District schools. Librarians from Sno-Isle Libraries frequently visit elementary and middle school libraries to host events encouraging students to get into reading at an early age with programs that promote reading habits, especially over summer break.