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Library levy — at a bargain table price of only $43 per Seattleite per year — heads for August ballot

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With a final price tag of $219 million, the Seattle City Council has finalized the Seattle Library levy proposal for the August ballot.

CHS wrote here about the core seven-year property tax proposal that will replace an expiring levy and will provide about 25% of the system’s budget.

“From story time to summer learning programs to adult learning classes, our libraries advance equity, education and opportunity for all who call Seattle home,” Mayor Jenny Durkan said in a statement to CHS about the levy. “If we are going to build a city of the future, then we must build the libraries of the future, too. By renewing our shared investments in The Seattle Public Library, we can lift up the places where communities come together, open up doors to learning, and make Seattle a more equitable place to live.”

The council added around $6 million in amendments including money to fund expansion of Play and Learn developmentally-appropriate learning experiences, and $2.51 million to keep the 26 branch libraries open one hour later Monday through Thursday.

Increased access to the library is a major component of the 2019 levy proposal. High Point, International District/Chinatown and South Park branches would get additional morning and evening hours and four other branches — Delridge, NewHolly, Green Lake and Wallingford — would be open Fridays. The levy also adds one hour at all locations on Sundays, shifting openings from 1 PM to noon.

Another $8.3 million per year would be used under the new levy for collection ventures, most of which would continue investments made in 2012. Included in this aspect is an emphasis on the acquisition of books on world languages and increased access to local history resources.

A majority of the $219 million 2019 proposal — $167.4 million, adjusting for inflation — would be used to continue services funded by the existing levy.

At around $31.3 million per year, the seven-year levy proposal raises around $43 for the library per Seattle citizen. Altogether, the system is spending around $172 per citizen per year.

The proposal would include elimination of overdue fines for checked out library materials, which would cost $8 million over the next seven years. Patrons who owe more than $15 are blocked from checking out library materials, a policy that tends to hurt people with less money more heavily. 18% of accounts at the Capitol Hill branch are blocked, for example, with an average balance of $7.82, while the nearby Montlake library has the lowest block rate and lowest average balance in the city. Meanwhile, south Seattle branches, such as NewHolly and Rainier Beach, have 37% and 36% of library accounts blocked, respectively.

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13 thoughts on “Library levy — at a bargain table price of only $43 per Seattleite per year — heads for August ballot

    • I just wonder how much longer Seattle will go on with this half-assed, nickle-and-diming way to budget, before people are finally fed up with it and do what we obviously need to do– a state income tax? It’s pretty sad it seems the only way you can register your discontent with this methodology is to start voting NO on everything, no matter how deserving it is. As long as every single levy passes, there’s no incentive to change this method. It’s a farce.

      • Yeah. Parks, library, 911 (phone tax), Medic One (county, not city), roads and sidewalks. Oh, and schools. I know the only thing we are talking about here is how the money comes from the taxpayers, but these constant levies are the result of our elected leaders abrogating their responsibility to make the hard decisions and raise taxes on their own, and accept the responsibility for their action. Easier to call this voluntary taxation. If something like the Medic One levy ever fails you can bet the county council will just raise property taxes permanently to pay for this service as a normal business activity. At least it would save the cost of another election.

    • If it’s such a bargain, why can’t they find the money in the existing $5.9 billion budget? Why are they always tapping the regressive property tax? Also, the headline sounds more like op-ed than news.

  1. The overdue fine elimination proposal bothers me. There has to be some incentive to return books, and do so in a timely manner. No, if you aren’t responsible enough to return stuff you borrow on time, you should be blocked. Let’s lower the limit from $15 to any amount. You owe any fine, you’re done until you pay up. Easier to pay 75 cents than $7.82.

    • That’s rather extreme (believe it or not, having to come up with 75c on the spot can be a burden for a homeless person) but I also don’t want to do away with fines entirely. I want to know that if the book I’m waiting on hold for is overdue, someone has a real, tangible incentive to bring it back, however small. Fines also help impress the idea that all of us, without exception, are library stakeholders. But some kind of grace (perhaps involving volunteer work for those able to do it) should certainly be offered those who accumulate fines beyond their ability to pay. Fines are not a huge revenue generator to begin with, and mitigating them won’t break the bank.

    • It bothers me too. And, unless it’s withdrawn from the proposal, I’m voting no. But my vote will not make a difference, because Seattle voters knee-jerk approve any levy that is on the ballot.

      • Maybe not this time… Under other circumstances I probably would vote for this without much thought, but this time no… I am getting to be more than a bit weary of this city completely giving up on the idea that people need to have at least some responsibility for themselves…. Let people work off fines or pay them, but eliminate no.

  2. I would rather pay for this than the family leave garbage that’s coming out of my check this year, or any of the school taxes we get saddled with.

    • I don’t mind paying for most all of them. I just want them to hit everybody proportionately. As it is, they don’t.

  3. I wish libraries were not a waiting room for the homeless. That would make it easier to be a patron. I can’t use most libraries in Seattle because they are just gross and smell.

    I wish Seattle would make steps towards fixing the homeless, mentally ill, and drug user populations. We have such deep rooted systemic issues that the libraries end up being the resting ground for these issues.

    I’m sorry, I LOVE libraries. But I love them when they are clean, safe and available for everyone. The homeless (especially the downtown library) rule the libraries. I feel terrible for the staff and the patrons.

    Please, lets fix the homeless issue. It’s worst than it’s ever been and it’s getting worst. Rising costs. Stagnant wages. Mental illness. Using drugs to escape. The sickness of our humanity is playing out every day on our streets and our libraries. :(