Opinion

Soundoff: In tough times, libraries needed more than ever

By Jonalyn Woolf-Ivory

Sno-Isle Library Director

Earlier this month, a woman stopped into a Sno-Isle library. She was not someone staff recognized as a regular customer; she came into the library to use a computer. A staff member glanced over at her a little while later, and saw that she was crying. After 20 years, she had recently found herself unemployed. She didn’t know where or how to begin looking for a new job.

But she knew to start at the library.

We have seen, over the last few months, that people are using and needing libraries more than ever. Sno-Isle Libraries, though, is facing a dilemma: our revenues are not keeping pace with cost increases. In 2010 we expect to have $2.5 million less than what we need to maintain the current level of services we offer now. This shortfall is not unexpected, since it is not related to the current economic crisis. As a public agency we are restricted to a 1% revenue increase each year. Due to this limitation, inflation and the increased cost of providing services have resulted in gaps between the revenues we receive and the cost of services we deliver.

We are now faced with two choices: make service reductions, or increase our revenue through a levy election.

Our last levy election was in 2003. In the years immediately following that election, we set aside money in reserves so that we could extend the amount of time between levy elections requesting additional revenue. We balanced our 2009 budget by buying fewer books and computers, deferring some building maintenance costs, and transferring dollars from our reserves. Faced with a budget shortfall, we included funds in the 2009 budget for a possible levy election this year. What we did not anticipate last year, when the Board of Trustees approved the 2009 budget, was how long the economic crisis would continue.

We’re facing the same problems other public agencies are facing right now: it’s a bad time to ask for more money. Many of you are facing financial challenges that impact your households and your businesses beyond your expectations. Given that reality, we are reaching out to our communities for guidance before making a decision on cuts to our 2010 budget or seeking a revenue increase through a levy election. While an election is budgeted, it is not a foregone conclusion.

More than 1,000 individuals have taken an online survey and provided feedback about possible service reductions for 2010, and about a possible library levy election this year. In addition, many have communicated by email or telephone to ask questions or provide us with feedback. And the discussion has only just begun.

The message that we have heard so far confirms the commitment many people have towards their community and quality of life. We join you in that commitment.

Sno-Isle Libraries takes its role as stewards of your tax dollar very seriously. Time and again in customer satisfaction surveys, you have told us that you believe we are managing your tax dollars well. The state auditor has given us the same feedback, with 23 consecutive years of clean audits for the library district.

But there is more to stewardship than that. Stewardship is also about service.

Since 2005, our staff costs have increased. This has not happened because staff have received large salary increases, but because we have responded to your requests for more open hours, additional Sunday hours in a number of our community libraries, opened a new pilot library on Camano Island, and initiated library service in the Mariner High School area.

We are at a crossroads, and seek your input. We want to hear from you. Please visit our website at http://www.sno-isle.org/cr/budget/ and give us your feedback about possible budget cuts next year and thoughts on a possible levy election this year.

Add your voice to the thousands who are weighing in on the future of their community library.

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