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Libraries deal with $2.5 million shortfall

Sno-Isle Library District has a $2.5 million deficit and officials are looking to residents for help.

Library officials are seeking local input about how to either make cuts to eliminate the shortfall or about the possibility of running a levy increase in the November 2009 election.

The revenue shortfall stems from increasing costs that have occurred in recent years.

Mary Kelly, spokesperson for Sno-Isle Libraries, which operates the public libraries on Whidbey Island as well as many in Snohomish County, said there are basically two options officials have to resolve the shortfall: either make budget cuts or ask for a tax increase.

To help decide what to do, residents are asked to complete a survey to identify possible cuts. That survey will be available online at www.sno-isle.org beginning Wednesday, May 6. That survey provides a plethora of cutbacks ranging from reducing the number of materials purchased to cutting hours of operation or even closing libraries for a period of one week or two weeks.

Residents can also fill out the survey during a public meeting that takes place Monday, May 21, at 7 p.m. at the Oak Harbor Library, 1000 SE Regatta Dr., which is the only such meeting scheduled on Whidbey Island.

Residents will also be asked about their opinions of a possible levy increase that would go before voters in November.

Sno-Isle Libraries last went to voters for such a levy increase in 2003 when voters approved an increase to 50 cents per every $1,000 assessed property value. That levy was originally rejected by voters in a February special election but then approved in a November election. Since then, the levy rate has decreased to 31 cents because of escalating property values.

Officials hope informing voters about the need for a property tax increase will improve its chances of passing.

“We’re trying to get in front of the train,” Kelly said.

The library system currently has a $38.3 million budget and Kelly said 97 percent of the revenue is driven by property taxes.

She said a decision hasn’t been made yet on whether to move forward with an election or the amount or length of a levy. A proposed levy increase would have to be approved by a simple majority.

Sno-Isle Libraries has a June 22 deadline to decide whether to run the November election. She said the early deadline is because county councils have to decide if the measure will appear on the ballot.

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