Lake Stevens proposes cutting ties with Sno-Isle Libraries

Sno-Isle’s director called the move a “drastic and unnecessary action to privatize our shared public library.”

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Lake Stevens in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118

LAKE STEVENS — City leaders want to know if Lake Stevens residents would be willing to leave the Sno-Isle Library District, in what the mayor pitched as a bid to fund a new $30 million civic center.

Lake Stevens has been planning the new campus — with city offices, a senior center, a library and public meeting space — for the past few years. But it looks like the project is going to cost the city about $1.5 million to $1.9 million in bond debt, Mayor Brett Gailey said.

For the project to happen, “voters must agree to leave the Sno-Isle Library District, and reassign the Sno-Isle levy you pay to the city,” the city wrote in a news release.

Sno-Isle has served the city since 1962, and the announcement came as a shock to the library district.

“We are disappointed that the City of Lake Stevens is considering this drastic and unnecessary action to privatize our shared public library services with an out of state, third party provider,” said Lois Langer Thompson, executive director of Sno-Isle Libraries, in an email. “We are ready to address any concerns of the Mayor and City Council, and to continue our longstanding partnership with, and service to, the people of Lake Stevens.”

Sno-Isle Libraries serves Snohomish and Island counties through 23 branches like the one in Lake Stevens at 2211 Grade Road.

Gailey said a potential alternative library services provider has not been identified. The mayor told Chy Ross, Sno-Isle assistant director of capital strategy and planning, he planned to float the idea of leaving Sno-Isle at a city library board meeting Thursday. But the news release, with an attached survey, blindsided Sno-Isle.

Sent hours before the meeting, the survey asked residents about the quality of services at the existing Sno-Isle Library; their concerns about privatizing library services; and what property taxes they would support if the library is privatized.

It also asked residents if they agree with the statement: “I trust the city to make sure our tax dollars are spent effectively and the library will continue to provide high quality services.”

Gailey said last fall that he, Sno-Isle leadership and a few City Council members were planning a campaign to go to voters at the next election, seeking a bond levy that would tack on about 35 cents per $1,000 assessed value of property to fund the Civic Center.

But Gailey said he’s concerned about how much of the local money paid into the library district actually stays in the city.

“My proposal is to try to control library services costs by separating from Sno-Isle,” Gailey told The Daily Herald. “… People need to ask: Where does all the money go?”

According to Sno-Isle, Lake Stevens residents provide about $2.25 million in property taxes.

“I think Sno-Isle might spend $1 million on library services in the city of Lake Stevens, which is fine, but my concern is that other ($1.25) million, it’s leaving our community and not being spent here,” Gailey said at the library board meeting.

Sno-Isle said over $2 million goes directly to the Lake Stevens library.

And similar to a school district, taxes paid into the library district are spread across locations. Lake Stevens residents with Sno-Isle cards have access to all of the library’s branches, digital materials and online services available through Sno-Isle Libraries, including ebooks, e-audiobooks, other digital media, streaming movies, music and databases. According to Sno-Isle, the library network spends about $8.7 million each year on services available to Lake Stevens residents.

Mary Dickinson, a Lake Stevens City Council member and liaison to the city’s library board, said she wants what’s best for the city.

At Thursday’s Lake Stevens library board meeting, she said, “one of the things I’m concerned about is the people of Lake Stevens, and they voted for Sno-Isle in 2008. … And Lake Stevens people really, really love their library.”

The city’s news release stirred some Lake Stevens residents, who took to community Facebook groups and the city’s comment section to share their frustration.

“I would love to see a new, modern library in Lake Stevens that provides services that are appropriate for a city of our size,” Adam Gessaman wrote. “However, I can’t support leaving a well-established and well-run library system in some kind of privatization scheme. I hope that voters will be given an opportunity to approve a new library construction project within the Sno-Isle system.”

“Why do we need to fill out a survey?” Maureen Phillips wrote. “Can’t they just read our reactions on Facebook?”

In a statement, Sno-Isle said it “participated in good faith in a joint exploratory process with the City of Lake Stevens to evaluate the feasibility of a Civic Center Campus.”

“Sno-Isle Libraries’ intent is to continue serving the Lake Stevens community,” the statement said.

The old library was torn down in June 2021 to make way for construction at North Cove Park. The library operated as a pop-up out of Lundeen Park for months before moving into a temporary location in the former police station.

The property near Chapel Hill Road that is slated for a new civic center includes parcels owned by Sno-Isle. The library district is moving ahead on the construction of a permanent library in the city, said Susan Hempstead, assistant director of strategic relations for Sno-Isle. They were awarded $3.1 million in state grants to complete the project.

Isabella Breda:; 425-339-3192; Twitter: @BredaIsabella.

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