With Sno-Isle levy on horizon, city asking whether Edmonds is paying more than it should

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    The interior of the Edmonds Library

    As Snohomish and Island County voters consider next month whether to approve a levy rate increase for the Sno-Isle library system, City of Edmonds officials have been asking pointed questions about why Edmonds taxpayers are paying more than other jurisdictions for library services.

    The timing of those questions is a coincidence, and is in no way connected with the levy, city officials say.

    “I’m a strong proponent of library system. I think they are providing excellent service to the our citizens,” said Edmonds City Councilmember Dave Teitzel, who began researching the topic through his work on the council’s finance committee.

    “The city is not questioning the services we get from the library,” added City Finance Director Scott James, who also started looking into the issue last summer. “Sno-Isle provides an excellent service to the community and to the county. I don’t want this to be looking like we’re out picking a fight with Sno-Isle.”

    Edmonds voters agreed in 2001 to approve annexation of the city-owned Edmonds Library, located at 650 Main St., into the Sno-Isle Libraries system. Woodway voters, on the other hand, opted not to join Sno-Isle and to this day Woodway residents don’t have Sno-Isle Libraries privileges.

    How much Edmonds taxpayers contribute compared to other cities in the Sno-Isle system — and compared to how much the library system reinvests in the Edmonds Library itself — was initially raised several years ago by former Edmonds City Councilmember Frank Yamamoto. After Yamamoto resigned due to health concerns, the issue didn’t gain much traction, but Teitzel reintroduced it during a council finance committee meeting six months ago.

    The basic issue is this: Higher average Edmonds home values mean that Edmonds property owners are assessed more than those in other Sno-Isle cities. Or as Teitzel puts it, “We are the victim of our own success.”

    But it isn’t just the amount that Edmonds taxpayers pay into the system that has officials asking questions.

    According to James, in the past 11 years, Edmonds property owners have been assessed a total of $6.5 million more than it costs to operate the Edmonds Library. That figure is based on Sno-Isle tax assessments to Edmonds minus Sno-Isle expenses for Edmonds.

    “On a 2016 basis we were contributing $600,000 more than we received in investment based on 38 cents of assessed value (per thousand),” Teitzel added. If voters approve the library system’s April 24 proposal to increase the levy amount to 47 cents, “that level of contribution will increase to about $1.4 million for Edmonds, so that kind of magnifies the funding disparity,” he said.

    With the pending levy vote (ballots will be mailed to homes April 5), the question of investment versus return is being raised by some Edmonds taxpayers. And while he reiterated his support for the work the library system does, Teitzel acknowledged that the discrepancy has become an election issue.

    “I’m not opposed to the levy per se,” he stressed. “I understand that Sno-Isle needs revenue. The only issue I have is that it is disproportionate, and that contribution will increase as the levy is passed.”

    A comparison of the 2016 assessments vs. expenditures for Sno-Isle Libraries. (Source: City of Edmonds)

    According to 2016 figures, Edmonds, with a population of 40,900, was assessed nearly $3.3 million ($3,260,780) for library services while Marysville, with a population of 64,940, was assessed just under $2.6 million. Lynnwood, population 36,590, was assessed nearly $2.3 million.

    In contrast, the amount reinvested into those libraries by Sno-Isle, according to library system figures, was $4.1 million for Marysville ($1.5 million more invested than assessed), $5.2 million for Lynnwood (close to $3 million more than assessed), and $2.6 million for Edmonds ($601,000 less than assessed).

    In an interview Thurday, Sno-Isle Libraries Executive Director Jonalyn Woolf-Ivory acknowledged the difference in assessments and expenditures among the 23 cities that comprise the Sno-Isle system. But she said the library district looks at the dollars invested district-wide, similar to the way one would view a school district. “We are not looking at each school compared to a school down the street,” she said.

    Sno-Isle’s commitment, she said, “is to provide the best service we can to all residents of the library district.” And one of the ways it does that is by leveraging the ability to share services throughout the system, she added.

    Edmonds-Woodway High School students Anna Russell-Sessum and Emily McLaughlin Sta. Maria take Sphero the app-driven robot for a spin. The library offers Teen Tech events to encourage proficiency in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields. (2015 My Edmonds News file photo)

    Library services can vary from community to community, depending on need, but the goal is to ensure that all residents have equal access to materials that are available throughout the library district, Woolf-Ivory said. In some cases, this means borrowing materials from other branches or using a library in a different city. The library also prides itself in adapting its programming to changing needs, such as ensuring that preschool library programs are aligned with early childhood education priorities, and providing STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) activities for students.

    And while City of Edmonds officials are pointing to the difference between tax dollars assessed vs. library investments, Woolf-Ivory said Sno-Isle is not hearing concerns from Edmonds library users about the level of service they are receiving.

    As a follow-up to the issues raised, City of Edmonds and Sno-Ise Libraries officials met Wednesday afternoon, March 28, to talk about options for resolving the financial discrepancy.

    Teitzel described the meeting as an effort “to explore what can be done to make this more equitable for citizens.”

    Finance Director Scott James said that one idea the city has raised was the possibility of having the library system contribute — through an existing reserve fund — money toward repairing the leaky Edmonds Library roof.

    The Edmonds Library exterior.

    As part of the voter-approved 2001 annexation agreement, the city maintains ownership of the library building and is responsible for outside maintenance, while Sno-Isle maintains the building interior. The agreement included a cost-sharing arrangement for roof repair that would need approval both from the city council and the Sno-Isle board of trustees.

    Library officials said that no specific suggestions or recommendations were made as a result of Wednesday’s meeting.

    “For us right now, we’re really focused on making sure that all of our residents have enough knowledge about our upcoming levy election,” Woolf-Ivory said. “We didn’t leave the meeting with another meeting planned or an agenda. We all left with an understanding of what each of our roles are.”

    If voters approve the April 24 levy, it would maintain current library services. A levy rejection would result in a $2 million reduction in the Sno-Isle Libraries budget in 2019, followed by a continued decrease in subsequent years.

    A levy failure would mean “reducing services in each of our community libraries,” Woolf-Ivory said. “Libraries will be open fewer hours, we will be purchasing fewer materials, we will not be able to maintain our technology.”

    Teitzel said he feels an obligation, as an elected official, “to look out for the best interests of all Edmonds citizens — library users and non-users alike.” And while he understands the concept of comparing the library district to a school district, he noted that the Sno-Isle system has a much larger geographic scope.

    “The tax dollars are in effect underwriting (places like) Whidbey Island and Darrington that are quite a distance removed from Edmonds geographically,” he said.

    The bigger issue, though, is the number of tax increases Edmonds voters are experiencing, from the recently approved Sound Transit 3 and Edmonds School District ballot measures, to upcoming taxes related to a new SERS emergency radio system.

    “I think taxpayers are just worn out,” James said.

    Sno-Isle Libraries is hosting a library operations levy open house at the Edmonds Library on Monday, April 2, from 6-7 p.m. Staff will be available to answer questions and share information about the levy and library funding. The Edmonds Library is located at 650 Main St.

    — By Teresa Wippel

     

     

     

     

    15 Replies to “With Sno-Isle levy on horizon, city asking whether Edmonds is paying more than it should”

    1. “If voters approve the April 24 levy, it would maintain current library services. A levy rejection would result in a $2 million reduction in the Sno-Isle Libraries budget in 2019, followed by a continued decrease in subsequent years.”

      This is a disengenuous statement. We are paying 38 cents per thousand of assessed property value. The levy asks us to increase it to 47 cents. A rejection of the levy to increase the rate does not decrease the existing rate. The amount of money we send to our excellent library system each year continues to go up. More homes are being built in both counties and the values of most properties continue to rise. We are already funding the libraries at a fair level. I just can’t get past my sense that they are playing a Chicken Little game with us.

      Yes, I have extreme tax fatigue, mostly because of Sound Transit, but also due to further funding of the school levy on top of increased taxation by the state to honor its constitutional obligation to fully fund the schools. McCleary was supposed to be about shifting the school districts away from levies and making the state cover the funding. Now I see myself paying twice on my tax bill. I recognize that many voters in the library system district may not suffer the same sense of tax fatigue. They are outside of the transit district that has just significantly increased property, motor vehicle excise, and sales taxes. I wish I felt like I could vote for more money for the libraries, but I really do feel tapped out. Wish lists are just not cutting it with me anymore.

      Lastly, I do think concerns of the Edmonds City Council are misplaced. I do not share the concern that Edmonds taxpayers are not getting back all that they pay for the library system. The city had to know that at the time it opted into the district. We are contributing to a strong library system that backs the Edmonds Library and gives us access to libraries all over two counties. If you want a hard copy of a book that is not available at Edmonds but is available at Lynnwood or MLT, and you want it now, it is so easy to just go get it. We also have access to a wonderful eBook system with a great variety of books because of the purchasing power of the library district. We contribute to a system that enriches our neighbors in smaller towns as well as supporting our own library. This is what it means to be part of a community. We don’t always get a direct return on every penny of our taxes, but we get it back indirectly by building strong communities.

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      1. Thanks for your comment, Carol. Sno-Isle is not playing chicken little. Services, including hours, collection and staff will be required to be cut starting in 2019 if the levy does not pass. I would encourage you to come to the open house at the Edmonds Library Monday to talk with staff.

        I also appreciate your support of the wonderful services Sno-Isle provides, as well as your statement regarding the misrepresentation by City Council. The premise of libraries is equal access to all information for every citizen, and Councilmember Teitzel’s statement that citizens of “Whidbey and Darrington,” should not have the same access and resources available to them because their property values are lower is absolutely disappointing.

        Again, I hope you will come Monday evening and I personally would be happy to chat with you!

        Sno-Isle is a great system providing much-needed services in 23 branches in the two-county system. A no vote on the levy will directly impact some of the must vulnerable citizens that require the free resources the most, including children and seniors in Edmonds and beyond.

        Again, it is a strong YES for Sno-Isle from me.

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        1. Luke, we elect a council and mayor to work for our citizens. They should and do try to find ways to increase services to Edmonds for the lowest possible cost. Council member Teitzel did not say Whidbey and Darrington should not have same access to services. He and the finance director simply pointed out Edmonds is subsiding other cities. The City should look out for our citizens and seek to lower our costs if they can. They did that with Fire Services and are trying to do that with the 911 radio system replacement. I would be very disappointed if they did not look for ways to save our tax payers money. That is their job.

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    2. Thanks for your comment Carol.

      I think the local library provides a great deal of services and benefits for our community. I would hate to lose any of their services.

      In terms of getting what we need from our tax dollars, I’d much rather see Councilmembers (if they have, I’m not aware and that would be my error) ask tough questions of Sound Transit on how they are using our $$ for our city.

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    3. The assessed property value for Edmonds has grown by over 10% per year from $6.1B in 2014 to $9.1B in 2018. Edmonds is 5.8% of the districts population but pays 8.1% of the tax. In 2014 that tax was $2.4M and today it’s $3.5M. With the change of tax rate from $.38/1000 to $.47/1000 and assuming even a 5% growth of property values the tax for 2019 would grow to $4.5M for 2019 and up to $6M in 2025. With a 10% growth rate it would be $8.3M in 2025.

      Council is elected to represent the citizens of Edmonds. They should and are doing the background work to make sure we are getting the best deal possible for our tax dollars. They have done so with our Fire services saving us $2M/year initially and even more now when you compare our cost to those that are on the ballot for other nearby cities. They are working to see that pay our fair share of the new 911 radio system (SERS). Using property tax for the SERS funding would cost Edmonds $6m while using something like a household or population tax would cost us $4M.

      $2M here, $2M there, soon we will have enough to have sustainable revenues to take care of our streets.

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    4. I do not believe that anyone is questioning the quality of the library service that Edmonds is receiving. Because we are happy with what we are receiving doesn’t mean that it is fair for us to have to pay an excessive amount for that service. That’s why Edmonds voters should vote NO. City Council then needs to terminate the annexation agreement and enter into a contract with Sno-Isle.

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    5. As I read the article I was struck by how this situation is the scenario of what is stated so often in politics; that the wealthy should pay their fair share. Since the levy by the library is based upon property values, it makes sense that Edmonds pays more than the areas where property has a lesser value. It seems to me that, with this levy, voters have the opportunity to decide if they really mean that the wealthy pay their fair share when it is hitting their own bank accounts.

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      1. So Jeanne, and all that have given a “thumbs up” to your remarks, believe that your city council should have not negotiated a contract with FD1 (Fire District 1). You believe that they should have had Edmonds become part of FD1 and caused us all to pay millions of dollars more in property taxes. Not necessarily because we are all relatively wealthier, but just because land is more expensive in Edmonds. Wow!

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    6. One response above is almost Marxian in concept…From each according to his ability, to each according to his need

      Vote NO on the Library levy…force them back go the drawing board to develop a different strategy for a sustainable funding base for library services…

      Teresa’s coverage of the above was excellent…

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    7. Ron Wambolt, I never said what I believe in my statement. I was making a point about people saying share the wealth and how this situation struck me as one of those situations. That is, would people who say it, be willing to share their own money? I am well aware that not everyone in Edmonds is wealthy. Obviously my point did not come across to you. Also, I did not follow what you are telling me I believe regarding the FD. I am not posting what I believe; simply posting a point. Which, apparently, wasn’t clear.

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    8. Unfortunately the wealth being “shared” is on paper only for most long term residents of Edmonds. Property taxes are based on the current value of their homes ( very high) and the owners who live in those homes unless and until they sell their home see no value in the higher value but are burdened by paying the high taxes for it. And in Edmonds (as other places) the high taxes will likely become an impediment to selling as well. Too bad and all the levies don’t help. Stragically timed or not. The state has rolled back some of the property tax. That should tell local governments something.

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      1. D Talmadge, so true! We are closing in on three decades in Edmonds. The money we put in our savings account each month used to be for savings and real estate taxes. Now, with the latest property tax increase, it is rapidly becoming a real estate taxes account.

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    9. Most of the folks here don’t live in the “bowl”. Most homes were and mostly still are just solid middle class homes with no views. Not only are the values meaningless if you live in your long term home, the money spent on taxes cannot be used on upkeep. Pricing folks out of their long term homes with higher property taxes may fund City projects but also degrades the community and quality of life for folks over the long term. Unfortunate and avoidable.

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