Questions, answers and facts about the Sno-Isle Libraries operations levy

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Jonalyn Woolf-Ivory

Property taxes are a tough subject, but worth talking about.

Almost all of the money needed to operate the Edmonds, Lynnwood, Mountlake Terrace and Brier libraries – and the other 19 community libraries in the Sno-Isle Libraries district – comes from an operations levy, which is on your annual property tax statement. Only 2 percent of funding comes from non-property tax sources. No operating money comes from the state and nothing from the federal government.

State law dictates that levy funding for a public organization like Sno-Isle Libraries can increase only 1 percent a year, along with a few exceptions.

However, no law places a 1 percent cap on annual library costs. Whether it’s the electric bill or gas for the bookmobile, the library pays increased costs like most of us. While we work to provide great library services within budget, over the years, funding just can’t keep up with expenses outside of our control.

Back in 2009, voters approved the library’s current operating levy. I promised at the time that we would not come back to the ballot for at least five years. We made the funding last nine years. How? By making practical decisions on spending.

You can see your money at work online and at your community library. You can talk to a librarian, check out a book, use the Wi-Fi, download an audiobook, attend an event or take an online class. No matter where you live, the library is available.

The Sno-Isle Libraries operations levy on the April 24 ballot asks voters to restore 9 cents to the levy rate. Why 9 cents? Because that’s all that is needed. If approved, the total rate would be 47 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. The law allows a rate of 50 cents, but our successful track record shows we just don’t need to.

If voters approve the levy rate restoration in April, it would maintain library services. If voters reject the levy restoration, the budget will be reduced by $2 million in 2019 and continue to decrease in subsequent years.

I hope you will take the time to familiarize yourself with how your libraries are funded. More information is available at sno-isle.org/levy. If you have questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me at [email protected].

— By Jonalyn Woolf-Ivory
Sno-Isle Libraries Executive Director

26 Replies to “Questions, answers and facts about the Sno-Isle Libraries operations levy”

  1. So, another tax coming in April? Why isn’t there someone out there thinking new ways for funding?
    I never hear the annual report: salaries, expenses etc. I would like to hear that. Any cutting of costs?

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    1. Hi Joy,

      The Sno-Isle levy is not new, the upcoming ballot is asking voters to renew the rate approved in 2009.

      Sno-Isle has set up a dedicated page with information on both the levy and the budget 🙂

      Levy info: https://www.sno-isle.org/funding/levy
      Budgets info: https://www.sno-isle.org/funding/budget

      I hope those are useful and please don’t hesitate to reach out to either the Edmonds Library, Sno-Isle, or our local Friends group if you have more questions.

      Best wishes,
      Luke – President, Friends of the Edmonds Library

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  2. I have reviewed the recommended financial statements and calculated that revenue from property taxes has had a compound annual growth of 3.48% during the period of 2009 ($31.073M) to 2018($42.262M). The 9 cent increase being requested will drive up property taxes in 2019 by 23.7%, and on top of that will be the increase in property values. That is too much!

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    1. Hi Ron, the Sno-Isle levy only applies to their own rate, not “property taxes” as a whole, so saying someone’s “property taxes will go up by 23.7% in 2019” in relation to just the Sno-Isle levy is not accurate.

      For a $500,000 household, a $0.47/$1,000 Sno-Isle levy = $235/year, or just under $20/month.

      In 2012-2014 the Sno-Isle levy rate was actually $0.50/$1,000, higher than what the organization is asking for now.

      I would encourage you to visit the library and speak with staff as well 🙂 .

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      1. All of my comments were related to property taxes collected by the library; they are accurate and should be unambiguous.

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  3. I have a couple of issues here, even though I am a huge fan of our library system. The first is what on earth does “restore 9 cents” mean? Is this a continuation of the existing levy is is it an increase? I watched the video that Sno-Isle sent out. It was a feel-good production that did not answer my basic question. Will I being paying the same rate if I vote yes, or will I be voting for an increased rate? As homeowners, we have a right to know. My second question is why this is coming up in April when we just had a levy vote in February? Each special election costs more money. My personal inclination is that the legislature needs to abolish special levy elections and make these go on the general election ballot in November. It will cost taxpayers less and there will be greater voter turnout.

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    1. Hi Carol,

      Voting yes would allow Sno-Isle to charge up to $0.47 per $1,000 value. The levy already exists, but requires voter approval to be raised. The 2018 rate is expected to be $0.38, so it would allow for a $0.09/$1,000 increase. I think the information on their website is more helpful than the video: https://www.sno-isle.org/funding/levy

      Regarding the timing of the election, my understanding is that Sno-Isle did not want to “compete” with school levies (I think there were a total of 23 school levies on the February ballot within the two-county Sno-Isle system). I am not a Sno-Isle employee and don’t speak on behalf of the organization, that is just the feeling I got. I think your question about election costs is probably better for the Snohomish County elections office. I thought Sno-Isle had to pay for some/all but I’m sure someone at the Edmonds Library can answer that for you.

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  4. The library budget has increased from $46.9m in 2014 to $57.1m in 2018. Tax payer revenue will increase for 2019 at the current tax rate. Raising the tax rate will not restore anything but an old rate levied when property values were lower. It will be a substantial increase. Further Edmonds median values for home is about $150,000 more than the rest of the county and Edmonds will pay about $1.3m more than our neighbors for the same number of households.

    Voting no will not lower the library budget it will already go up at the current tax rate. We should work on funding models that look more like per household or population. If we could find a better funding method we may be able to get Woodway to join in.

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    1. Hi Darrol,

      When the revenue exceeds the budget I believe Sno-Isle saves those amounts in order to not go back to voters for another increase. In 2009 when voters approved the last levy Sno-Isle projected that it could last for five years. The organization was able to stretch that out to NINE years, so instead of going back to voters in 2014, they are doing it now in 2018. When they didn’t need the money, they didn’t ask for it. There is a good chart which shows this on their website, here: https://www.sno-isle.org/funding/levy (near the bottom of the page)

      The funding model is unfortunately a much larger question 🙂 .

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  5. Thanks for the links, The reserves are larger now than in any of the budgets posted on the links. The current taxes collected on a per head basis using Snohomish County data is $53.5/person. Edmonds is paying $84.8/person. Using that same rate Edmonds would pay $2.2m. But we are currently paying $3.5m or $1.3m more. That is enough to restore our street overlay budget.

    The taxes collected at the current rate for 2019 will already be more than collected for 2018. The levy link suggests that without the new levy there will be budget cuts. The data in the budget does not support that statement.

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  6. My look at the budget and the revenue growth shows for 2019 they will not be reducing budget. A no vote may open the door to a better funding method.

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  7. (copy and paste from earlier, similar column)

    1. ST3 increase
    2. McCleary whopping tax increase
    3. Education levy increase

    and now..

    4. The Library levy

    No wonder Washington State and city governments are belching with excess revenues.

    To my knowledge, no taxpayer has gotten a salary/pension/Soc Security percentage increase that matches the increases in taxes?? Or did I miss something?

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  8. It is my understanding that like the recent school levy ballot, this is another single issue ballot. My question is why are we getting single issue ballots? I assume that multiple issue ballots are less costly to the taxpayer that several single issue ballots. If this is correct are single issue ballots chosen because they are more likely to pass?

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    1. Hi Gary,
      I believe Sno-Isle didn’t want to be seen to “compete” with the school levies, of which there were 20+ on the February ballot in the two-county system. Can’t speak to other ballots, but I think that was the case for this one and you can always contact the Edmonds Library or Sno-Isle to confirm.

      Luke

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  9. Yes there is a cost to running an election. If only one entity is on the ballot, schools, library, city, then the individual entity pays the full cost rather than sharing the cost with other entities. So two elections do cost tax payers more than both sharing one election.

    On single issue elections the goal is to get supporters to vote and hope others do not take the time to vote. They feel that is the best way to win. I would want the schools and libraries to be the biggest supporters of democracy, everyone vote, and all that but when it comes to elections their goal is to win.

    I think King County or Seattle are advancing the idea of free postage in hopes of a larger turnout. Other efforts to make voter registration super easy or automatic will be interesting to watch. Will mail be free for single ballot issues?

    It would be nice to think all entities would want all the people to vote on issues but that may not be the best way to win.

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  10. Couldn’t make the meeting at the library. But my only question was this.

    Why a increase when they have received way more then asked for? By taxing on the property value, they have received roughly a 25% increase over the last nine years.
    (from their website)
    ACTUAL PROPERTY TAX REVENUE RECEIVED BY YEAR 2009-2017*

    2009

    $30,109,019

    2010

    $35,872,510

    2011

    $36,772,213

    2012

    $37,198,552

    2013

    $35,534,182

    2014

    $37,800,984

    2015

    $39,103,075

    2016

    $40,094,184

    2017

    $41,108,717

    This is the actual rate of increased taxes. Raising taxes based on my assessed value does not mean I have authorized a 25% increase in their budget. Yet that is what they received and now it’s not enough? I guarantee my income hasn’t increased 25% over the last 9 years. It’s not like I’m getting more money becouse my “assessed value” increased. Just the opposite.

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    1. Hi Jeff, Sno-Isle budgets are available here: https://www.sno-isle.org/funding/budget

      Revenues cover a portion of the total budget, and the rest must be taken from reserves. The last levy was projected to last five years and Sno-Isle was able to stretch that to NINE.

      So in the early years, extra income is saved in reserve and then utilized when the levy rate is lower and revenue does not completely cover expenses: https://www.sno-isle.org/funding/

      Sorry you missed the open house! However, staff at Edmonds Library can answer your questions as well. You can drop by any time during open hours and speak with staff. I’m happy to provide any answers I can as well.

      Hope this helps,
      Luke

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      1. Luke, I followed your suggestion, looked at the budgets but cannot find the 2019 estimated budget on which the shortfall claims are being made. I also followed your suggestion to reach out to the library staff via the web site and got an instant response that someone would get back to me. Unfortunately no one has responded leading me to the conclusion that no one will respond.

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  11. Simply vote NO…property values are up so existing levy will go up accordingly without renewal.

    We do NOT need to pay for libraries in other towns…our population is large enough to fund an Edmonds Municipal Public library!

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  12. Some of the people, including councilmember Mesaros, who spoke in support of the library at last night’s city council meeting seem to believe that no matter how much more money the library district asks for it’s ok. It has already been well described in comments on MEN by myself and several others that the taxpayers of Edmonds are already paying too much for library service. The only thing the supporters of the library continue to say is that the library is a wonderful place. It is a great service, but enough is enough!

    Some taxpayers may also not understand that even if the levy fails in Edmonds we will still be stuck with it if a majority of the district supports it. We need to control our own destiny by leaving the district and negotiating a contract with Sno-Isle for library service.

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    1. Hi Ron,

      Did you attend the meeting last night? If so, I wish you would have introduced yourself, or made a public comment, or…?

      For the record, Council Members Mesaros, Buckshnis and Nelson all have confirmed endorsements of the Sno-Isle Levy Proposition.

      How do you know you are paying too much? Have you used the library calculator for the services you use (https://www.sno-isle.org/valuecalc/)? Or all the other library users in Edmonds? If you request an item that is located in Oak Harbor, how much does it cost for you to get that item delivered to you here? How much does it cost if you use internet services, download ebooks, or stream digital media (movies, TV shows, music)? Do you know how many residents in Edmonds use those services and at what frequency? Or in other towns and communities? Without that knowledge, I fail to understand how one could truly say you’re paying “too much,” or, “too little.” Higher-value homes in every city and town throughout both counties pay more. Lower-value homes pay less. That is applied everywhere, not just in Edmonds.

      The Sno-Isle System is just that: a system. You cannot carve out city limits that are not applicable to the whole.

      There are many homes that are $1.5 million and more in Mukilteo. Are they paying too much?

      That could be applied everywhere throughout the two county system. Yet, I believe that it is a selective and misleading argument at best.

      Do you know how much it would cost to try and contract services? The last time voters were given a choice to either shut down the Edmonds Library or annex into Sno-Isle, they chose to join Sno-Isle.

      I understand you will not support the levy. However, I really worry you may not understand the consequences that will have on the citizens who require those services to learn how to read, complete their school work, support their small business, and experience the arts, culture and events that libraries bring, without admission, into our communities, equally accessible to every single citizen.

      Best wishes,
      Luke

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      1. I did not attend the meeting; I watched it on my computer this morning.
        When I state that Edmonds taxpayers are paying too much I’m saying relative to the remainder of the district.
        The vote in 2001 was “Shall the City of Edmonds be annexed to and be part of the Sno-Isle Library District Yes or No”. The vote that I am proposing would be to remain in Sno-Isle or leave Sno-Isle and negotiate a contract with Sno-Isle.

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        1. As I commented here several times, both FD1 and Sno-Isle provide us a service. Both of those organizations serve a wide geographic area having lower property values than Edmonds and property tax levies that are common for their service areas. City Council wisely decided in 2009 to enter into a contract for fire service with FD1 in order to save millions in property taxes. The same opportunity exists for library service. Good thing that the elected officials referenced were not councilmembers in 2009 or property taxes would likely be even higher today.

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