Voters should back library levy

Whidbey Island voters should support Sno-Isle Libraries’ request for a levy increase in the Nov. 3 general election despite the ailing economy. And also because of the ailing economy. Library usage has only increased as more and more people are out of work or are cutting their spending. An average of 900 people visit the Oak Harbor Library each day and they check out an average of 45,000 items a month. People who cannot afford books, Internet service, DVDs, books on CDs, periodicals and other items can have free access at the library. Libraries also provide an invaluable service as community gathering places where people can stay in touch with one another.

If library officials had a crystal ball, they wouldn’t have waited six years to ask for an increase. Instead, they would have put the measure on the ballot before the economic storm hit. The need for extra money has little to do with the downturn, but is largely due to the cost of doing business increasing faster than revenues. An election wouldn’t have been necessary in the days before Initiative 747, which caps property tax increases at 1 percent a year.

The board of trustees did the right thing in cutting the budget before asking the voters for more funding. They slashed more than $1 million from the 2010 budget through salary reductions for the highest paid employees, a salary freeze, the elimination of positions through attrition and the cutting of the materials budget.

The ballot measure would increase the library district’s levy rate by 9 cents per $1,000 in assessed value. That would mean the owner of a $300,000 home would pay $27 more a year for library services. If it passes, it would bring the library system’s total levy to 40 cents per $1,000 in assessed value. It’s a lot of money, but it’s a fair price to pay for a system with 21 libraries serving 757,858 residents in Snohomish and Island counties with more than 1.4 million items.

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