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Library wants help with budget

How should Sno-Isle Library System deal with the anticipated $800,000 budget shortfall next year? Should librarians cut library hours, buy fewer books or provide fewer computers for internet access?

Library officials want to hear from both regular patrons and non-users about what the community wants. One in a series of meetings in Snohomish and Island counties is set for next Tuesday at Oak Harbor Library.

“We really want to know what’s important to people,” said Mary Campbell, managing librarian at Oak Harbor Library. The library, which is a regional reference center, is one of 20 branches within the system.

Sno-Isle officials are also gathering public input through a scientific telephone survey this month. Applied Research Northwest will conduct the random survey of about 400 households within the two-county system.

In addition, Campbell said Sno-Isle is gathering feedback through an online survey at www.sno-isle.org.

The library system is facing budget tightening because a two-county levy restoration measure failed in a February election. The ballot actually passed in Island County, but was defeated by Snohomish residents who voted against it.

The library district used to be able to keep its levy amount from property taxes level at 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. But Initiative 747 put a stop to that by limiting tax increases without a public vote. So the library district had to go to the polls, but lost.

Campbell said library is currently collecting 46 cents per $1,000, which will dip to 44 cents per $1,000 next year. In fact, the levy will continue to slip over time. That means the overall money the libraries collect will stagnate at about $21 million, even as assessed values and population increase, unless voters pass a levy increase.

To deal with the budget problem, Campbell said officials are looking to taxpayers for help. Also, she said librarians want to educate people about what the libraries offer and what the challenges are.

After all, libraries quietly serve an amazing number of people. Campbell said an average of 1,000 people a day visit the Oak Harbor library.

It’s so crowded, in fact, that library officials and supporters are looking into the possibility of creating a library taxing district in North Whidbey to build a new facility in the city.

She said the discussion about cutbacks will likely focus on technical services, programming and library hours.

“We really need to hear from people,” she said, “and I know they have a lot of questions.”

Book this date

Public Meeting On Library Budget at Tuesday June 17, 7 p.m., Oak Harbor Library.

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