Libraries for the 21st Century on August Ballot

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Downtown Central Library

On Monday, April 9, the Council will vote on placing a seven-year, $122.6 million property tax levy on the August 7, 2012, ballot to support the Seattle Public Library (SPL).  The Council is likely to approve the ordinance.  This levy will restore the services that have been cut from the City budget since the recession began, protect the library from further cuts, and add funding that will take the library to a new level of service designed for the 21st century.  This means expanded collections, including electronic materials, hours that make branches more accessible for working families and school children, better technology, and maintenance that will protect the investments in our Central Library and 26 branches.

All over the country, libraries are being cut back as City governments are challenged by the recession.  In many other cities, this has led to large public protests, and City governments have responded by trying to find ways to keep libraries going.  Seattle values our libraries, and the Council has managed to avoid drastic cuts that would close branches or eviscerate services.  However, the cuts we have been forced to make have reduced the accessibility of library services and greatly strained staff and facility resources.

The proposed levy would raise $17 million in 2013 and grow by 1% per year.  The assessment would be about $0.15 per $1,000 of assessed value.  The annual cost to the owner of a residential property with the median assessed value for Seattle ($361,000) would be around $52.

Approximately 95% of SPL’s $52 million operating budget for 2012 is supported by the City’s General Fund.  SPL’s capital budget is largely funded by the City’s Real Estate Excise Tax (REET) revenues.  Both of these resources have been greatly constrained in the past four years.

Recognizing this, the Council initiated a process of researching funding options in 2010, and in 2011 continued this effort by calling for a proposal for a potential 2012 levy.  In December 2011, the Council unanimously adopted Resolution 31345, which set forth a structure, process and schedule for the development of a 2012 library ballot measure.  CB 117425 is the result of the work plan articulated in Resolution 31345 and would authorize the placement of a specific library levy proposal on the August 2012 ballot.

If approved by Seattle voters, proceeds from that levy would support the following four categories of library services from January 2013 through December 2019:

1)   Open hours and access – $26.8 million (annual average – $3.8 million)

SPL would add back operating hours at branch libraries and increase the reference services available at branches and the Central Library.  Funding would also be provided for security services and technology support.  Of the 15 branches that are currently open five days per week, 13 would gain Sunday hours and two would transition to a seven day schedule.  SPL would no longer have a week-long, system-wide closure each year.

2)    Collections – $17.3 million (annual average – $2.5 million)

The variety and depth of SPL’s collection would be increased to better meet patron demand for materials.  The collections component of the levy would also fund increased purchasing of downloadable materials, such as e-books, and more copies of popular material in print, digital, and other formats.

3)    Technology – $10.6 million (annual average – $1.5 million)

The Library would replace and upgrade computers and technology infrastructure that was purchased during the Libraries for All capital program.  Levy funding would also support improvements to SPL’s online services.

4)    Regular and Major Maintenance – $26 million (annual average – $3.7 million)

Levy funds would provide additional support for regular and major maintenance activities at SPL’s 27 buildings.  This would not include funding for any new or expanded library facilities. 

The remaining funds generated by the levy would be used to restore funding for open hours and services that would otherwise be cut in 2013 due to the City’s continuing fiscal challenges.  For more information, see