Library talks levy lid

To ensure islanders on the northern end of San Juan were able to have easy access to the Library Levy Lid, which is expected to be placed on the Aug. 6 ballot, information, and an opportunity to ask questions and air concerns about the ballot measure, the Library Board of Trustees held a meeting in the Roche Harbor Pavillion May 1.

“The library depends on the levy tax fund for staff salaries, utilities, maintenance, equipment, collections, and other operating expenses,” Board secretary Barbara Sharp told attendees. “The last levy lid was in 2013 – 11 years ago – and it is no longer sufficient to sustain current operations and future expenses.”

According to Sharp, the Board’s current focus is pivoting from long-range plans (the new building) to concentrating on the immediate operational goal.

Board President Boyd Pratt delved into the details of the library’s designation as a junior taxing district.

“Libraries, schools, fire departments, and hospital districts are designated as junior taxing districts which means they are limited to a one percent increase in property tax revenue each year.

“Whenever there needs to be a levy lid lift election, a lot of junior taxing districts consider it a curse,” Pratt began. “We have to go to the voters and go through this long election process to get enough money just to keep operating. I, however, look at the process as a blessing because it allows us to strut our stuff.”

Pratt provided statistics. Three out of five islanders are card-carrying members of the library; that number includes young people. The library is the seventh most visited in the state; it ranks eighth in terms of circulation; and fifth for program attendance. The San Juan Island Library also boasts the state’s second-largest collection, per capita. Orcas Island Library holds the largest.

“I find this all very interesting. As I said, we are a junior taxing district which means we are responsible for overseeing the library’s budget. That’s one of the reasons we call ourselves a Board of Trustees. We have the trust of the public to manage those finances,” Pratt said.

The library’s budget is approximately two million dollars. The Friends of the Library provides some financial support and additional revenue comes from grants and donations. It’s property taxes, however, that comprise nearly 95% of the library’s budget. Thirteen years ago, the library requested and received a 39 cents-per-thousand levy. Over time, the property taxes dropped to 29 cents per thousand. To recover from that drop, the library is asking that the levy be lifted to 41 cents per thousand. According to a library’s fact sheet, this would mean an annual tax increase of $113 on a $750,000 home; that the levy lid would remain for 10 years; and that the library commits to refraining from seeking a new levy lift until 2035.

Regarding the new library building, Board Vice President Karen Vedder provided an update.

“The board is still committed to a new facility. We think the Spring Street property is the ideal place for that new building and we have no intention of selling the property,” Vedder explained. “That being said, we heard loud and clear that the $12-million bond we asked for was too high.”

Vedder said the Board is looking at increased philanthropy to reduce the bond, and looking into how affordable housing might fit into the property.

“It will involve a lot of research and community discussion, but not at the moment. Right now, the focus is on the levy lid so we can continue to run the library and provide services to the community.” Vedder said.

One attendee asked if the budget included insurance and taxes for the Spring Street property. Pratt replied that the Spring Street property is a separate budget that comes from donations. Reserves were also brought up during the question and answer session.

“We are at the bottom of those reserves, that’s why we are going for the levy,” Vedder explained.

“If the levy does not pass, the community will see big changes at the library. Staff will be cut, programs will be cut, and hours will be cut. The San Juan Library will not look the same.”