Librarian Andrea Wallis leads activities during Toddler Storytime at the Main Everett Library on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

Librarian Andrea Wallis leads activities during Toddler Storytime at the Main Everett Library on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

Everett library trustees ‘ideally’ don’t want to merge with Sno-Isle

City finance staff see three options to deal with a $12.9 million deficit: a library merger, a fire department merger, or a new property tax.

EVERETT — City leaders allocated $6.4 million, or around 3.8% of the city’s $166.9 general government budget, to Everett libraries this year.

In the wake of a $12.9 million budget deficit for this year, the city finance staff presented three options to help get out of the red:

• Merge the city library with Sno-Isle Libraries;

• Merge the city fire department with a regional fire authority; or

• Ask voters to approve a levy lid lift.

It’s unclear how likely the city is to pursue a library or fire department merger. But library officials have voiced concerns about the potential change.

In a letter to the City Council last week, the Everett Library Board of Trustees expressed their wish to remain part of the city, while remaining open to the idea of a merger if that’s what’s best for residents.

Adults and kids read during Toddler Storytime at the Main Everett Library on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

Adults and kids read during Toddler Storytime at the Main Everett Library on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

“The Board of Trustees of the Everett Public Library is concerned over the structural deficit facing the city of Everett and its potential impacts on library services for our community,” members of the library board wrote. “Ideally, we would like to see that service continue as the Everett Public Library System. Our residents are proud of their city and its services, and our library has a history and collection that are unique to our local community.”

The letter continued: “However, we encourage City Council to explore all of our options to best serve the people of Everett, including potential annexation into the Sno-Isle Library System.”

The City Council is set to decide in March which option, or options, to pursue.

City finance staff predict merging with Sno-Isle would free up about $6.4 million. However, that means Everett property owners would then pay Sno-Isle library taxes, raising the annual payment by roughly $170 from current city tax rates, according to finance staff.

On a council retreat late last month, several council members said, of the three options, a library merger would generate the least money.

With a library merger, the city “would only see a $6.4 million deficit reduction, so we wouldn’t be gaining nearly what we would with the other two (revenue options),” Council Member Judy Touhy said at the retreat.

A levy lid lift would generate more funds in the long term, but it’s hard to sell people on a general tax increase, City Council member Don Schwab said.

Kids play during Toddler Storytime at the Main Everett Library on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

Kids play during Toddler Storytime at the Main Everett Library on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

At the end of the day, the decision is up to voters: The city can’t go forward with any of the options without placing them on a ballot.

Since voter turnout is higher in presidential election years, the city should act fast, Mayor Cassie Franklin said at a council meeting in January. The city would need to submit a ballot measure by August for it to qualify for the November election.

The Daily Herald was not able to interview any Everett library employees on the record about their feelings. Library leadership directed staff not to speak to media, and instead refer all interview requests to Library Director Abigail Cooley, according to a letter obtained by The Daily Herald.

Library union representatives also did not respond to requests for comment last week.

The Everett Public Library will be 126 years old this year. Everett is one of the only cities in the county that owns and operates its library.

But merging with Sno-Isle, the operator of 23 branches in Snohomish and Island counties, could increase Everett library funding by $1.9 million, city staff said in January. Residents may also get more in terms of services as a result of the partnership, City Council member Paula Rhyne said.

Larger Sno-Isle branches are open seven days a week. The main Everett library is open for six days, and the Evergreen branch is open five. However, it’s still too soon to tell exactly what library operations would look like under new leadership.

Outside the Main Everett Library on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

Outside the Main Everett Library on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

In a council meeting Feb. 7, city finance staff highlighted what caused the city’s deficit to increase over the past decade.

The city is set to spend $36.9. million more on public safety than it did a decade ago. In that time, the city hired 26 full-time employees, 23 of those being police, to handle public safety, city spokesperson Simone Tarver said via email. The city also hired around 12 employees to deal with homelessness and behavioral issues over that time span.

The Everett Police Department has the most staff of any department in the city, with 243 full-time employees. The police operating budget has been on the rise since 2021, jumping from $39.6 million in 2021 to $42.9 million in 2023.

In the same time frame, the city’s fire department budget has risen from $22.2 million to $24.3million. It was proposed to rise a bit more to $26.6 million in 2024.

Other examples of city costs:

• $77.7 million for transit. A potential Everett Transit merger with Community Transit has been the topic of a major study that began in 2019. Officials expect to have a draft plan by 2025, when there will be “opportunities for public input.”

• $8.6 million to a golf fund. Golf also generates $5.8 million in revenue for the city, according to the 2024 budget.

• $5.1 million on legal services;

• $1.7 million on administration.

• $730,000 for municipal arts.

Ashley Nash: 425-339-3037; ashley.nash@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @ash_nash00.

Correction: An earlier version of this story contained inaccurate numbers concerning the library, police and fire budgets, as well as the number of employees hired to address homelessness and behavioral health issues.

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