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Sno-Isle Libraries looking at levy to avoid cuts

SNOHOMISH COUNTY — The board that oversees the Sno-Isle Regional Libraries system will be weighing its options and deciding this month whether to cut the library district’s operating budget—and services—or put a “levy lid lift” measure before voters next spring that would raise property taxes.
The last time Sno-Isle put a levy rate increase to voters was in 2009.
“Sno-Isle Libraries has some difficult financial decisions,” begins a written summary for library patrons, “your input can help determine which path to take.”
Library officials say they have two choices as they face a $2 million budget shortfall in 2019: Cut the budget and reduce expenses/services, or ask voters to approve a tax increase in April 2018 to meet projected needs. Trustees will weigh these options, listen to public input, and vote at their Dec. 11 meeting on whether to place a levy rate increase before voters.
“(Sno-Isle) cannot continue to provide the current level of library services through 2019 with existing funding,” the summary says.
A levy rate increase, if approved, would bump up 2018’s tax rate of 38 cents per $1,000 of assessed property valuation to 47 cents, beginning in 2019. If voters decline, the levy rate would continue to fall and the district would need to cut services, materials, or library hours, officials say.
The proposed 2018 budget, which was approved unanimously by trustees on Nov. 27, is $57.08 million, compared with a $53.25 million budget for 2017. Salaries and
benefits constitute the largest portion of the budget (67.9 percent), followed by new materials (13.4 percent).
“We have a long history of committing to a materials budget,” said Sno-Isle executive director Jonalyn Woolf-Ivory. If that portion of the budget decreases, she said, fewer new books can be purchased, wait times would increase, and it becomes difficult to build a “solid collection” of materials.
A portion marked for “miscellaneous” expenditures makes up 5.3 percent of the budget. This category has a nearly $2.1 million increase to cover the anticipated costs for two ballot measures in 2018: An assumed proposed operating levy and also a bond measure for a
new Lake Stevens library, said Jim Hills, a library district spokesman. Elections officials rejected last February’s bond result for
a Lake Stevens Library because of too few votes.
In the budget, most
proposed operations expenditures for 2018 will increase over 2017, although several areas — including professional and contracted services, equipment and furnishings, and maintenance and repairs — would decrease.
Library district residents have been encouraged to
voice their opinions on the possible levy rate increase or budget cuts at one of several open houses at branch
libraries, and online, before the Dec. 11 board vote.
Library information lists a dozen “potential budget reduction targets” that spell out areas in which budget cuts are possible.
For example, $1.4 million could be saved by reducing open library hours by four hours per week at most of the 22 community libraries. Closing libraries on Sundays would save $1.2 million.
Woolf-Ivory said her staff holds many strong — and differing — opinions on how expenses could be cut but, in the end, “the staff request is to move forward with (the levy) election,” she said.
The proposed ballot measure would go before voters
as a levy lid lift, or a request to restore the district’s levy, and this requires the library to take it to a public vote. A simple 50 percent majority is required to pass one.
Without using a levy lid lift, the library district cannot increase the levy above a 1 percent limit annually.
The next library district open house will be Wednesday, Dec. 6, at the Mountlake Terrace Library, at
6 p.m., 23300 58th Ave W.
in Mountlake Terrace. Interested people can also visit two websites to learn more about the levy or
take a survey. The websites are: www.sno-isle.org/open-house and www.sno-isle.org/levy.

 

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