I would like to personally thank Seattle voters for again reaffirming their commitment to libraries by overwhelmingly approving a seven-year, $122.6 million property tax levy on the August 7 ballot to support the Seattle Public Library (SPL). I initiated the two year process to prepare this proposal, and chaired the Committee of the Whole on the Library Levy, which placed it on the ballot.
I am very grateful for the strong support of my colleagues on the Council and the Mayor, as well as the commitment of the Library Board, the Library Foundation, the Friends of the Library, and many hundreds of volunteers who support the libraries and joined in this work. This was both a true grassroots effort and a great partnership between community activists and City government. It once again demonstrates that we are most successful when we work together to solve difficult challenges to the health and well-being of Seattle.
The levy vote also reaffirms the confidence of voters that the City Council is making thoughtful and careful decisions about budgets and priorities in the face of a difficult economic climate and the constraints placed on the City by the Eyman initiatives requiring voter approval for revenue increases.
Opponents of the levy (who, in a truly Orwellian twist, called themselves ‘Save Our Seattle Library’), asserted that the City should fully fund the library out of general fund revenues. These claims ignored the impact of the recession on City revenues, which forced libraries to compete with public safety, human services, and other priorities. Opponents never stated what they would cut in order to fund libraries. And, as Seattle voters know, the Eyman tax limitation initiatives limit the growth in City property tax revenues to 1% per year, meaning that the City budget falls behind inflation and population growth even in normal years.
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.
Seattle has set a marker and a model that will be looked to by cities all over the country. Libraries are being cut back as City governments are challenged by the recession. We can be proud of the way the people of Seattle have responded to this challenge by emphatically stating their willingness to voluntarily raise their taxes in order to maintain library services. Our example will give new energy to the many people who are rallying around the vision of the central role of free public libraries as essential to democracy.
Proceeds from the levy will:
- Add back operating hours at branch libraries, increase reference services at branches and the Central Library, and fund security services and technology support. Of the 15 branches that are currently open five days per week, 13 will gain Sunday hours and two will transition to a seven day schedule. 2012 will be the last year that SPL will have to have a week-long, system-wide closure.
- Increase the collections budget to better meet patron demand for materials, increase purchases of downloadable materials, and provide more copies of popular material in print, digital, and other formats.
- Replace and upgrade computers and technology infrastructure and improve online services.
- Support regular and major maintenance activities at SPL’s 27 buildings.
For more information, see http://www.seattle.gov/council/issues/library_levy.htm