King County library bond fails to gain support

KING COUNTY - Results released Friday, Feb. 7, from the Feb. 4 election spelled doom for the King County Library System's expansion and renovation plans.

With all but 10 percent of the absentee ballots counted, as of the Valley Record's deadline, the $158 million bond measure for capital improvements stood little chance of passing, election officials said. The measure had achieved a 52.34 percent yes vote in the latest results, but it needed a 60 percent supermajority to pass.

"I think it's extremely unlikely" it will pass, said Bob Roegner, director of the King County Records and Elections Division.

He said just 10,000 absentee ballots remained to be counted, plus whatever few might still arrive in the mail. New cumulative totals will be released Tuesday and Thursday, with the final results certified Friday, Feb. 14.

Just 13,000 votes could have swung the measure into the pass column, said a resigned Bill Ptacek, director of the King County Library System.

"We don't see this as a defeat for libraries,"' he said. The 52.3 percent margin, "if it were a political candidate, would be a mandate. It calls to mind that 60 percent is really, really tough to achieve."

Library officials will assess the results precinct by precinct before deciding whether to resubmit the measure to voters, he said.

The bond issue would have added four new library branches, replaced 16 outdated branches, including North Bend and Snoqualmie locations, and upgraded and expanded 26 more libraries over the next 10 years. Those needs must be addressed eventually, Ptacek said.

As each capital improvement becomes critical, Ptacek said, the system will have to look at shifting money from its operating budget, which could necessitate cuts in such areas as library hours or book purchases. The 2003 budget does not rely on passage of the measure, he said.

Ptacek blamed the national economic and political climate, the dearth of school bond issues on the ballot to bring out voters, and a lack of promotional funds for helping thwart the measure.

"We didn't have a big campaign budget . . . to get the information out," he said. "I don't know if people were aware of what it meant for individuals and households -$158 million is a lot, but it was only $24-$25 a year for the average homeowner. That's a lot more palatable."

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