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Library levy asks for cash boost to avoid service cuts

SNOHOMISH COUNTY — On April 24, voters will decide whether the Sno-Isle library system can increase its tax rate by 9 cents per $1,000 of property value.
The current levy is 38 cents per $1,000 and would rise to 47 cents if the measure is approved. Ballots are being mailed this week.
The levy lid lift would increase property tax on a $400,000 home by $36 in 2019, for a total estimated library levy cost of $188 that year.
The levy would fund operations and services. A levy approved in 2009 initially provided more revenues than the libraries spent. Sno-Isle libraries held the excess funds in reserve to fund recent operations but says those reserve funds will be exhausted by next year.
Sno-Isle’s 2018 budget is approximately $57 million, but plan to spend $48 million and retain $8.5 million for cash reserves. The current levy provided $41 million in revenues in 2017.
Library officials estimate a $2 million cut in 2019 and larger subsequent cuts
would be necessary if the levy failed.
“If you like our services, our inventory, our hours, then vote yes, if we don’t pass this election there will
have to be cuts,” said Terry Lippincott, who is the president of the nonprofits Sno-Isle Libraries Foundation and Friends of the Snohomish Library.
Sno-Isle lists a dozen “potential budget reduction targets” that spell out areas in which budget cuts are possible if the levy failed.
For example, preliminary planning from December suggested $1.4 million could be saved by reducing open library hours by four hours per week at most of the 23 community libraries. Closing libraries on Sundays would save $1.2 million.
Officials point to 31 years of clean reports from the State Auditor’s Office and the fact that they promised not to request a levy increase for five years but waited nine instead as examples of good financial stewardship.
Washington State spends more than 43 others per capita on library services according to a 2014 figures from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, to which Lippincott said, “good for us!”
Lippincott talked about libraries as invaluable, democratic centers and said funding them positively reflects the values of the community.
She pointed out an “Issues that Matter” series of meetings, childrens’ storytimes, and business startup centers as some key beneficial program offerings.
The library district receives 98 percent of its funding from property owners across most of Snohomish and Island counties according to its website.
Salaries and benefits comprise nearly 68 percent of its budget, which library spokesman Jim Hill says is competitive with its peers and necessary in a service-intensive organization.
Business is brisk among the region’s 23 libraries. The agency stated 60,901 children under 6 attended storytime and 221,080 people attended classes and events in 2017. It counted 493,908 customers who checked out items nearly 6 million times according to levy campaign materials.


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