April 24, 2014

Update: Seattle Council Approves Putting Library Levy to a Vote

This article has been updated to include the results of the council vote.

On April 9 the Seattle City Council unanimously approved placing  a property-tax levy on the August primary ballot on behalf of the Seattle Public Library, according to the Seattle Times. The Council held a hearing on April 3 to hear testimony on the idea. The council declined to appoint a citizens oversight committee for the levy funds, on the grounds that the levy would fund restoring a defined set of services and be overseen by the library board, itself a citizen’s group.

The $123 million, seven-year measure, if it passes, would restore approximately $17 million a year to the library’s funding and would cost the owner of a median-priced home about $50 annually.

That $17 million would be enough to end the system’s week long shutdown each summer, open all 26 branches on Sundays, add 47 staff members, restore the capital budget for major maintenance, rebuild and add to the library’s collection, and modernize computers and online services.

According to the Times, four years of budget cuts are responsible for the Sunday (and Friday) closures and for the summer week, which is an unpaid furlough for library employees. And the cuts aren’t over: the Council expects to take another $5 million off the $49 million current budget next year.

“If the Library levy does not pass, we will face an estimated $5 million in cuts in 2013… There is no way we can absorb a reduction of that size without severe impacts, such as closing branches and cutting even deeper into the budget for books, technology and maintenance, ”Andra Addison, SPL’s communications director, told LJ.

If placed on the ballot, the measure seems to have a good chance at passage: A telephone survey of 400 adults in September found that 86 percent agreed that libraries provide an essential public service and continue to play an important role in encouraging citizenship and providing a community meeting place. Reopening branch libraries on Sunday was the highest priority listed by respondents. A 1998 libraries bond measure was approved by more than 70 percent of voters.

If the levy passes, City Council President Richard Conlin said the city would have three options after it expires: renewing the levy, establishing a library district with a dedicated source of voter-approved funding, or restoring the money from the general fund.

 

Meredith Schwartz About Meredith Schwartz

Meredith Schwartz (mschwartz@mediasourceinc.com) is Senior Editor, News and Features of Library Journal.

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