Snohomish County sinks library levy

There will be no extra money for books at Oak Harbor library and the 19 other libraries under the Sno-Isle library system. On the other hand, property taxes didn’t increase this week.

Voters rejected an increase in the levy supporting the library system’s operating budget in a two-county special election Feb 4. Just over 52 percent of the 61,846 voters chose not to pass the measure.

Yet there was a pretty significant discrepancy between voters in Island County compared to Snohomish County. Island County voters actually approved of the levy by over 54 percent, though there was a pretty low voter turnout. A total of 6,944 people voted in favor while 5,817 voted against the measure in the county.

Of the 12,761 votes from Island County, 11,309 came from mail-in ballots.

The predominantly negative vote out of Snohomish County, however, overcame Island County voters. Just over 54 percent of 49,000 Snohomish voters polled to reject the levy increase.

The proposal would have restored the library levy to 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. The library rate is currently at 44 cents per $1,000 and will inevitably slip further as times goes by. The special election cost about $700,000.

Becky Bolte, island region manager for the library system, said library folks are disappointed by the election, though they are heartened by Island County voters’ approval.

Bolte said there could be a few different reasons for the difference between Snohomish and Island county results. There was a high voter turnout, per capita, at the polls in Snohomish County. There were also two school levies on the ballot in Snohomish County Feb. 4, both of which were rejected.

“It could be that voters there are anxious not to have tax increases,” Bolte said.

While 78 percent of Island County residents have library cards, only 53 percent of Snohomish County residents do. “Maybe Island County residents have a better appreciation of what libraries offer,” she said.

Or maybe island residents are more literate.

Whatever the reason, library officials said the rejection of the measure means the library system won’t be able to maintain current services. Bolte said the librarians have already been cutting back on things like equipment upgrades and staffing since the passage of Initiative 747, which affected the library levy.

According to Bolte, there has already been talk among library officials about holding another election someday.

Yet when there may be another election — and where budget cuts could happen — will be up to the seven members of the regional library board.

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