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Library leaders stump for lid lift

Ballots for the May 15 election aren’t scheduled to be mailed until this Friday, but the top brass of the Kitsap Regional Libraries has already crisscrossed the county seeking support for a property tax increase that would support current — and projected — library operations.

KRL Director Jill Jean, who assumed her position in September, has already visited every city council, chamber of commerce and community group that has opened its doors to argue that the system can’t accommodate growth without the extra funds.

She is scheduled to address the Kitsap County commissioners on April 23, at which point she hopes the commissioners will sign a resolution endorsing the measure.

KRL last requested a levy lift in 1979 — the only such request in its 55-year history. This year’s request comes two months after voters turned down both a sales tax increase to support Kitsap Transit’s foot ferry and a South Kitsap school bond.

Additionally, the Port of Bremerton was roundly criticized for imposing a property tax hike that many voters felt they did not approve.

Jean admits the anti-tax sentiment could hurt the levy effort, but feels that community support for the library runs deep enough to assure the needed votes.

“If we lose this, we will be without 20 percent of our budget,” Jean said. “There aren’t a lot of places to cut.”

Jean said the potential cuts have not yet been determined, explaining, “There are some things we don’t want to talk about before we are pushed to the wall.”

However, she admits shortened hours and a decrease of equipment and book purchases would almost certainly be necessary.

The levy lift, which KRL said is needed to maintain existing services while accommodating increasing service demands in the next five years, would increase the library’s share of property taxes from 30 cents to 48 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. This translates to a total of $48 for a $100,000 home.

Currently, property owners are paying $30 for each $100,000 assessed. If the levy is defeated, the library fee will fall to $27.

According to Kitsap County Elections Supervisor Dolores Gilmore, the county will be sending out 129,522 ballots for the election (fewer than normal, since those living within Port Orchard city limits are not voting). Gilmore expects about a 50 percent response, and the measure requires a simple majority to pass.

By this estimation, the measure needs support from 32,371 voters to pass.

Jean, however, would like to get more.

“I don’t want to get just a majority,” she said. “I’d rather get a mandate, with about 60 percent of the votes cast.”

Jean has no predictions about voter turnout, but points out that KRL’s constituency far exceeds the number needed for a majority. More than 180,000 people have library cards (with only 17 percent of these not of voting age).

The lift has already received the endorsement of the South Kitsap School Board and the Poulsbo City Council. The Bainbridge Island City Council is scheduled to address the issue at its April 25 meeting and will endorse the idea — or not — after those for and against the issue address the council.

There is no organized opposition to the levy lift, and those speaking out against the measure are doing so as a tax protest. This centers around the idea that a 60 percent raise in revenues is too steep.

“Typically, you don’t ask for an increase this large all at once,” said Lois Andrus of Bainbridge Island. “You should do it incrementally. Back in 2002, they knew this was coming, so they could have asked for a 5 percent raise then. They should do this a few steps at a time.”

Andrus said not all of the options had been explored. She argues that not all property owners should be automatically assessed, but those who use the library frequently should be able to get the increased services for an increased cost.

“I don’t know how they would do this,” she said, “but I know there are other ways to skin this cat.”

Andrus said she is a regular library user and supporter. Levy opponent Bill Marsh of Poulsbo, on the other hand, said he checks out one book a year. Under the current tax structure, he estimates this costs him $230. If the levy passes, it will cast $300.

“They’re not really clear what they are going to do with the money,” Marsh said. “First they say they want to maintain services, then they say they want to expand them. I think they’re being a bit greedy and should get an increase that reflects how much someone’s salary increases.”

Jean acknowledges that a 60 percent increase is dramatic, but said it does not represent a lot of money.

“This measure will give us enough money to operate for the next five years,” she said. “And if and when a new library is built, we will have enough for its operation.”

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