“Going to the voters is not a decision we take lightly,” Board of Trustees President Marti Anamosa said before a unanimous vote at the Dec. 11 regular meeting. “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.”
The resolution passed by the trustees calls for asking the voters to consider restoring 9 cents to the library district’s regular operating levy. The 2018 levy rate is expected to be 38 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. If voters approve the ballot measure scheduled for April 24, 2018, the levy rate would go to 47 cents in 2019.
Sno-Isle Libraries receives 98 percent of its funding from a property-tax levy across most of Snohomish and all of Island counties.
“The predictability of property-tax revenue helps in budgeting, but unfortunately costs often rise more rapidly than revenue,” Sno-Isle Libraries Executive Director Jonalyn Woolf-Ivory said. The library district’s strategy, she said, is to do what most people do; budget carefully and put some away in savings.
“We last went to the voters in 2009,” 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.”
Woolf-Ivory said the need to draw from reserves began three years ago and was used again to balance the 2018 budget. “By the 2019 budget, there won’t be enough in regular funding and the levy stabilization reserve to maintain current services.”
Board President Anamosa said the combination of the library district’s history of “careful, thoughtful and practical” budgeting with recent community survey results made the decision to go to voters a reasonable choice.
“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.
Sno-Isle Libraries Foundation President Terry Lippincott thanked the trustees for bringing the levy question to the voters.
“The Sno-Isle Libraries Foundation partners with Sno-Isle Libraries to bring strong programming to community libraries,” Lippincott said. “We’re excited to be part of the community support that includes corporate partners, friends-of-the-library organizations and a huge group of dedicated library volunteers.”
Voter approval of a library operations levy would mean library services would continue at current levels. If voters do not approve the ballot measure in April, the next step would be budget cuts for 2019 and service reductions.
“We project that the 2019 budget would need to be cut by $2 million,” said Woolf-Ivory, adding that additional reductions would be needed in 2020 and subsequent years.
“If cuts are necessary, the only way you get to $2 million is examining reductions in personnel and materials costs,” Woolf-Ivory said. Such budget reductions would:
- Fewer open hours, fewer library services and fewer librarians would be hired as current staff members depart.
- Fewer new titles, a smaller collection and longer customer wait time for print and digital books, movies and music.
Without additional revenue, budget reductions in 2019 would be followed by additional cuts in 2020 and beyond, reducing the library district’s ability to meet requests and expectations of communities and customers each year, the announcement said.
Sno-Isle Libraries operates 22 community libraries, bookmobile, outreach and online services available to more than 743,000 people across Snohomish and Island counties. More than 476,000 library cardholders use a variety of services annually. Children and families attended 7,280 library programs, drawing 221,000 attendees in 2016.