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Book lovers question library budget

Oak Harbor resident Marshall Goldberg questions Sno-Isle Library officials about the system’s budget deficit and staff salaries during a public meeting Thursday night at the Oak Harbor Public Library.   - Nathan Whalen/Whidbey News-Times
Oak Harbor resident Marshall Goldberg questions Sno-Isle Library officials about the system’s budget deficit and staff salaries during a public meeting Thursday night at the Oak Harbor Public Library.
— image credit: Nathan Whalen/Whidbey News-Times

With a levy election on the table to help Sno-Isle Libraries close a budget shortfall, Whidbey Island residents expressed concerns that such a tax increase wouldn’t pass.

They were attending a meeting Thursday night at the Oak Harbor Library, pressing library officials about salary information and how much those costs are expected to increase.

Marshall Goldberg noticed that budget information on the library’s Web site shows a $2 million increase in salaries and wages and questioned whether the library board will freeze salaries and wages at 2008 levels, which he said would eliminate most of the shortfall.

Library Director Jonalyn Woolf-Ivory said that the system is already well into the current budget year and that there isn’t a projected salary increase in 2010.

The Sno-Isle Library System is facing a $2.5 million budget deficit for 2010. Officials are looking to the community for input about whether to make further cuts in library services or to go to the voters for approval to increase the library property tax.

Woolf-Ivory said that the library system is in a disconcerting position. Because of the weak economy, officials are seeing an increased demand for library services as more job seekers and people taking advantage of free programs come through the doors.

“At the same time, we’re feeling the pinch financially,” Woolf Ivory said, adding that library use has nothing to do with revenue.

The library system gets between 90 and 95 percent of its revenue from property tax collections, and the revenue increases each year by just one percent. As a result, officials say there is no longer enough to maintain current levels of library services. The tax rate stands at 31 cents per $1,000 assessed property value. Officials haven’t made a decision yet on whether to run a levy lid election or how much to ask. The maximum allowed is 50 cents per thousand.

Library officials are surveying residents in the library system to get input about what kind of cuts to make and to gauge opinion about a levy increase.

Some people attending the meeting questioned the perception that a levy election is inevitable because money was budgeted in 2009 to pay for it. Woolf-Ivory said approximately $400,000 has been budgeted to pay for an election but there’s no guarantee the money will be spent.

“Just because the money is budgeted doesn’t mean we have to spend it,” Woolf-Ivory said, adding it costs between $150,000 and $450,000 to run an election. The election would take place in Snohomish and Island counties.

Approximately 20 people attended the Thursday evening meeting and filled out surveys about recommended cuts.

Langley resident Marti Anamosa said it’s hard to tell the relative impact of a number of suggested cuts.

An example that came out during the meeting is a $600,000 line item to eliminate improvements to Sno-Isle’s library computer system. While it’s a significant amount of money, the current system is old and in 18 months, the system’s manufacturer won’t support it.

A member of the audience questioned why officials haven’t saved money for the upgrades. Woolf-Ivory said money has been saved, it’s just a question of whether it’s better used for something else.

In addition to the Thursday evening meeting, residents can fill out surveys by connecting to the library’s Web site, www.sno-isle.org.

Mary Kelly, spokesperson for Sno-Isle Libraries, said more than 1,000 people filled out the budget survey.

“It’s a very good response,” Kelly said.

Library officials are expected to make a decision June 22 about whether to move forward with a November election.

Kelly said the decision has to be made early so the commissioners of both counties can approve placing the proposal on the November ballot.

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