In my previous post, I explained that the new strategic plan for Kitsap Regional Library will include goals that can be accomplished with the resources the library has now, and also some goals that can only be accomplished if the library has more resources.
Since 95 percent of the library’s revenue comes from property taxes, having more resources means voters approving a tax levy increase.
The library asked Kitsap County residents to approve levy increase in May, 2007. At that point, the library had used up its cash reserves over a period of years as spending grew faster than revenues. The levy proposal was defeated, with about 45 percent of county voters approving the measure, and 55 percent voting no.
After that levy defeat, the library didn’t react the way most governments do. It did something different.The library did not go immediately back to voters for ask for the increase again. Instead, the leadership of the library made a conscious decision to listen to the voters and to look inward to resolve its financial issues.
The KRL Board of Trustees and the administration made a pledge to create a sustainable budget for the system. Hours of operation were cut; spending on capital projects, maintenance and new technology was cut; the budget for the purchase of new books and other materials for the collection was cut. Every staff member of the library took a pay freeze this year to break the cycle of steadily increasing spending. Increases proposed for the 2010 budget are half what they had been in previous years, and they keep KRL spending growth at the same rate as the projected increase in revenues.
As a result, the library budget today is right-sized to its current and future revenues. Unlike other libraries across the state of Washington, and other governments in Kitsap and around the area, KRL has not been forced to lay off employees to balance its budget. Nor has it been forced to close down its offices periodically to save on payroll costs. And, looking maybe 10 years into the future, the library can sustain its current hours of operation and its operation of nine branches plus the bookmobile and outreach to patrons who are unable to make it to a library branch.
Over time, however, KRL will continue to be squeezed. While revenue growth is between 1 and 3 percent, the cost of services it needs (health coverage for employees, for example) or of the materials it purchases for public use is growing faster than its revenues. Certainly by the end of 10 years, without a levy increase somewhere along the line, there will have to be more cuts to keep the system solvent.
This comes at a time when library use is at an all-time high. More and more people are recognizing the value of being able to borrow books, mazazines, CDs and DVDs for free. More and more, people are recognizing that libraries are champion recyclers, allowing patrons to borrow and reuse materials many times over.
And that’s why, as the library takes stock of the next five years and looks at the programs and services needed to serve an increasingly diverse population, the board will eventually have to ask voters for a levy increase.
I have tracked what I actually have paid for the library over the past 10 tax seasons. My house on the Ridgetop is pretty near the median priced house in the county. For the year 2000 taxes, my house was assessed at $155,440 and my library tax was $77.72. The my tax bill this year, my house was assessed at $284,990 and my library tax was $82.05. So my library tax has increased about 5.5 percent over a 10 year period, about half a percent each year. Your property may have a higher or a lower assessment, but basically, if your property has not been newly developed during the last 10 years, your experience with paying library taxes has been the same as mine.
Two other library systems in Washington just asked voters last month for levy increases. Both levy proposals — one in Whatcom County, and one in the library district that serves Snohomish and Island counties — were successful. In both cases, the libraries were facing severe budget cuts. In the case of Sno-Isle, the public was told that even if they voted yes and raised their taxes, the library would still have to cut some services.
If Kitsap Regional Library seeks levy approval from the voters in the near future, that will not be the case. Voters would get more for paying more.
But I wonder if that will make the public more or less likely to support a KRL levy. Would you be more motivated to support a levy increase if the system was facing severe cuts? Would the fact that a levy increase would pay for program enhancements make you less likely to vote yes?
I’d be interested to hear your perspectives on that question.