Stanwood city leaders debate site of future library

STANWOOD — City leaders are debating whether to lift a restriction that limits any library construction in the next eight years to downtown, which is located in a floodplain.

And if they take that route, they could avoid a potential $27,000 shortfall in Stanwood’s 2015-16 budget.

Two years ago, the City Council pushed for a location provision in its contract with the Sno-Isle Libraries District. Officials wanted to focus public investment and fuel private interest in downtown Stanwood, edged roughly by Pioneer Highway on the east and 102nd Avenue on the west.

The area falls within a 100-year floodplain designated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. It hasn’t been inundated since 1959, after which higher dikes were built. There have been some close calls.

Now, the city is requesting that the library district waive a scheduled fee increase for 2015. In return, Sno-Isle has asked the city to reconsider its location stipulation, which is part of the same contract that outlines the fee hikes.

For some of the council, the proposal seems like a win-win. Others worry that moving public services out of downtown Stanwood could cripple the area that has long been the heart of the community. Discussions already are under way about moving Stanwood’s City Hall and police station uphill because of the steep costs and safety concerns that come with building in a floodplain.

“Recent events with the Oso landslide, potential for flooding, sea-level rise and FEMA flood insurance policies have prompted some members of the community to re-think whether essential public facilities should be sited downtown in the floodplain,” according to a city staff report.

If the library district pursues a new facility, officials want the option to look uphill, as well, Sno-Isle spokesman Ken Harvey said.

“There’s no location currently under consideration,” he said. “We don’t have anything in the pipeline for a new library.”

In 2004, voters rejected a bond measure that would have built a Stanwood-Camano library. But Camano Island now has its own library, and Stanwood voters might consider a new facility in the coming years, Harvey said.

“We’ve heard, in the last 10 years, a lot of comments about wanting to have a new library,” he said. “What we haven’t heard is anything from the city or the community as an organized group. But we wouldn’t be surprised to hear that in the future.”

The library has been threatened by flooding at least twice in the past 30 years, Harvey said. Police warned staff to evacuate the building once in the 1980s. In 2009, another warning spurred sandbagging around the building while librarians moved books and supplies off the floor and low shelves. The current library is a city-owned building, though Sno-Isle manages day-to-day operations.

Stanwood has paid for library service out of its general fund since 1947. The upcoming 2015 payment is the city’s last. Voters chose to annex into the library district, creating a new property tax to support the service. The measure passed in November 2014 with 82 percent approval. It takes effect in 2016.

The city’s final library payment is set to increase $27,000 from the 2014 rate. Stanwood’s 2015-16 budget is balanced with $289,200 earmarked for the library — the 2014 rate, according to council documents. With the increase, the city faces a deficit.

It’s not just about saving money, Councilman Rob Johnson said. He doesn’t think it makes sense for the city to tell another jurisdiction where to build.

“I don’t believe that the whole health of the downtown is hanging on where they might build a new library,” he said. “While I respect my colleagues and that they can have differences of opinion, this one kind of took me by surprise. I’m stumped. ”

The council has not scheduled a date to decide on the proposal. If the council chooses not to change the location requirement, Sno-Isle might still defer the $27,000 payment increase until March 16, 2016, according to council documents.

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; kbray@heraldnet.com.

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