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Lid lift helps libraries stay strong

Carnation Children
Carnation Children's Librarian Jenn Carter reads a book to a number of children during their afternoon story time. King County Libraries seek a voter approved lid lift in the Feb. 9 election. Passage means continued support for materials and programs. Failure means 'things will just get tighter,' Valley senior managing librarian Michele Drovdahl said.
— image credit: Allison Espiritu / Snoqualmie Valley Record

Simple economics mean that Valley libraries keep seeing increased business in a recession. After all, patrons can check out a book, free of charge.

But libraries themselves don’t operate for nothing. The King County Library System goes before voters Feb. 9 with Proposition 1, a requested levy lid lift, boosting the tax revenues that libraries receive.

The measure asks for a new rate of 50 cents per $1,000 in assessed property value through 2011. Following 2011, Initiative 747 comes into play, and the rate will begin to decline again.

Levy funds provide about 15 percent of the budget. The increase would help fund books, computers and building maintenance. Election results will determine whether KCLS will maintain the current level of library service or make cuts.

The lid lift has been planned for a long time, but is coming at a tough time, economically, said Michele Drovdahl, the Valley’s senior managing librarian for KCLS.

In 2001, Washington voters passed initiative 747, which holds libraries, as well as other agencies across the state, to 1 percent growth in property tax revenues each year. Anything above that limit requires an election to authorize the increase, said Julie Brand, Community Relations Manager of KCLS.

Currently, the tax levy rate is at 42 cents. KCLS receives 96 percent of its operating revenue from property taxes.

During 2011, homeowners with values between $300,000 and $500,000 would pay between $150 and $250, about $25 to $40 above the previous tax.

KCLS passed its last lid lift eight years ago. Brand said it was surprising that the library system was able to wait so long for another attempt.

Last year, KCLS cut $1.9 million out of the operating budget for resources such as books, magazines, DVDs, books on tape, technology, administration and facility maintenance.

More books

In 2009, KCLS circulation numbers exceeded 21 million items checked out, a six percent increase from the prior year. Circulation and patron use continue to rise.

“We see a large escalation of people using resources, particularly in the past year,” Brand said. “People turned to us because of the state of the economy.”

If passed, the proposition will enable KCLS to preserve the current level of library service, programs and resources at all 44 libraries, including those in the Valley. Lift passage would maintain outreach services to community centers, low-income daycare facilities, the elderly and the homebound.

“Without the support, we would have to make 10 to 15 pecent cuts across the board,” Brand said. “Pretty much everything except personnel would be affected.”

Free library programs would be unaffected, but programming that the library pays for, such as special presenters, author visits and summer reading programs, could be affected.

In the past year, KCLS has made an effort to provide job assistance, providing patrons with ways to update their resumes, search for work or file for unemployment.

“We try to address things as we see them,” Drovdahl said. “We’re doing a lot of job stuff, making sure to help people.”

Getting the word out

The result of Proposition 1 will definitely impact KCLS, Brand said.

“In this economy, it’s hard to predict what may happen,” she said. “To some people, an increase of $32 annually is a lot of money.”

Brand recently received an e-mail from an area woman who said her husband had been laid off, leading her to go back to work. She eventually was laid off, too. To get by, the woman said the only place she and her husband could afford resources and classes was at the library.

“Even for her, with a family on a tight financial budget, $32 was a good deal for her,” Brand said.

Drovdahl is very positive about the community’s support for the measure, and has a good outlook for it passing.

“I know in my heart it’s going to pass,” Drovdahl said. “People have always been supportive of the libraries.

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