The Seattle City Council will hold a public hearing Thursday evening on Mayor Jenny Durkan’s plan for hiking the Seattle Public Library levy up to over $213.3 million in property taxes over the next seven years.
The new proposal, which first needs to be approved — and possibly modified — by the City Council before before voters get to weigh in in early August, would replace the city’s 2012 levy of $123 million, which was fairly easily approved by voters and expires at the end of this year.
“While Seattle’s voters have historically supported our library system, I don’t take their support for granted,” said Debora Juarez, who chairs the council’s Select Committee on the Library Levy.
The money under the mayor’s plan would increase access to all of the Seattle Public Library’s 26 branches, sustain and raise investments in technology, expand literature purchases, and continue maintenance.
“From story time to summer learning programs to adult learning classes, our libraries advance equity, education and opportunity for all who call Seattle home,” Durkan said in a statement to CHS. “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.”
An overwhelming majority of the 2019 plan — $167.4 million, adjusting for inflation — would be used to continue services funded by the existing levy.
The biggest portion of the plan is $67.5 million over the life of the levy for increased access to the library. 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, at no incremental cost.
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.
One of the most impactful planks of the mayor’s proposal could eliminate 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.
In addition, $55.7 million over the life of the levy, which would last through December 2026, would be used for maintenance, including reducing the risk of injury in the case of an earthquake through seismic retrofits, which would cost $13.8 million for three locations identified as high-risk.
Finally, $4.2 million per year would be earmarked for replacing and upgrading technology, such as routers, printers, and computers, as well as paying for major technology system upgrades. 29% of patrons at the Capitol Hill branch use computers, compared to 48% at the Chinatown/International District library.
The council can change the mayor’s proposal before sending it to the ballot and previewed some additions that could come up in a Monday committee hearing.
Lorena Gonzalez hopes to add library programming for children under 3, which are attended by nearly 107,000 people in total. SPL is gathering information on this idea to see how much it may cost while Mike O’Brien has proposed adding an extra open hour for all branches Monday through Thursday, which would cost $5.6 over seven years, according to a council-staff memo.
Other possible changes being considered by the council include a $6.1 million proposal to use part of Seattle City Light’s new Denny Substation in South Lake Union for a non-traditional library space, which could possibly include programming or a pick-up space, and a $2.6 plan for adding air conditioning and elevators to the Columbia City, Green Lake, and University branches.
The public hearing on the proposal takes place starting at 5:30 PM Thursday in Council Chambers at City Hall. The levy has another scheduled committee April 17 and could have a vote from the full council April 22.
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