Library levy winning by 51% to 49%

If Tuesday night election results hold up, Sno-Isle Libraries won’t have to cut hours next year.

Sno-Isle Libraries Prop. 1, which would increase the library district’s levy rate by 9 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value, was narrowly leading in the all-mail ballot.

Tuesday’s count was 45,733 to 43,675, a 51 percent to 49 percent margin. It needs 50 percent plus one vote to pass and thousands of more ballots are yet to be counted.

The close early results “mean we’ll have to wait” to know if the measure passes, said Mary Kelly, a library system spokeswoman.

“It is probably too close to be able to call,” Kelly said. “It’s better than being on the other side of the 50 percent.”

If the ballot proposal passes, the tax rate for the libraries would jump from 31 cents to 40 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.

Sno-Isle includes 21 libraries and 491 full- and part-time workers. It has a $38 million budget, including reserves, and checked out 8.4 million items in 2008.

The owner of a $300,000 home would pay an extra $27 a year under the ballot proposal.

If the levy fails, library officials say they will have to reduce spending by $2.5 million in 2010, which also would mean reducing libraries’ hours and further cuts to purchases of books and materials.

Tom Balt, a rural Snohomish resident who voted against the library levy, said he believes the outcome would be even closer if there had been an opposing view in the voters’ pamphlet.

“It certainly may have had an influence on some voters,” he said. “When you have a one-sided presentation, it skews the position.”

Kelly said the library district sought a committee to oppose the measure through press releases sent out to newspapers, announcements posted in libraries and on its Web site.

A series of public meetings and more than 1,000 Web surveys last spring convinced library leaders to trim spending by more than $1 million to reduce the amount they would ask from taxpayers. Reductions approved for 2010 include a 3 percent salary cut for the top six highest-paid Sno-Isle employees and three other senior staff members.

There also will be a salary freeze for all other employees as well as cuts in spending on materials and equipment. In addition, improvements to the libraries’ computer system have been delayed until 2011. Some vacant positions will not be filled.

The district would make equitable reductions in hours across the system, but trim hours at each site to different times based on usage patterns, officials said.

A levy increase would allow Sno-Isle to rebuild its reserves and provide money to maintain current library services for five years, library officials said.

Sno-Isle Libraries passed a similar levy lid lift during a 2003 election, and set aside money in reserve funds. That measure passed with a 52 percent yes vote.

The 2003 ballot measure increased the levy amount from 46 cents to its maximum legal limit of 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. That rate steadily dropped over the next five years to 31 cents per $1,000 this year as property values increased.

Tuesday’s library measure appeared on ballots in most Snohomish and Island county communities. Exceptions were Everett and Woodway, which are not part of the Sno-Isle system. Langley and Stanwood contract for Sno-Isle library services but are not annexed into the system and therefore did not vote.

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446,

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