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Library levy gets tepid backing

As expected, the Kitsap Regional Library’s Board of Trustees voted unanimously on Tuesday night to place a levy measure on the Nov. 2 general election ballot.

But in a somewhat surprising development, Port Orchard Mayor Lary Coppola, after meeting with KRL officials the following morning, said he’d recommend the city council adopt an official endorsement of the levy request at its Aug. 10 meeting.

Coppola, who has frequently criticized the library district’s proposal as not offering enough for Port Orchard, said the levy wasn’t perfect, but it was an improvement over what the library district had been offering.

“I’ll urge the council to support it,” he said, “but they can do whatever they want.”

According to a KRL press release, passage of the levy “would secure the financial status of Kitsap Regional Library for at least a decade, allowing expansion of library hours, the purchase of more books and other lending materials and the improvement of library technology.”

In addition, the levy would support construction of new library buildings in Kingston, Silverdale and Port Orchard and fund capital needs at the system’s six other branch libraries.

The proposed increase would lift the district’s levy in 2011 from about $9.34 million without a levy increase to about $12.9 million.

The estimated impact on property tax rates would be an increase from 34.5 cents to 48 cents per $1,000.

The owner of a typical Kitsap County home would pay about $33 more per year, about $2.80 per month, if the increase passes.

Before the vote, KRL board members acknowledged the tough economic times that Kitsap County has experienced in the past 18 months.

“For me, it wasn’t a matter of if, but when,” said Teresa McDermott, who represents Central Kitsap on the board. “This levy lid lift is crucial to the survival of the library system.”

Board Vice President John Lyall of Bremerton said, “I can look any taxpayer in the eye and say the money will be spent for essential services.”

“It’s really the right thing to do to give the voters an opportunity to say ‘Yes, we will build our library system’,” added Board Member Jackie Aitchison of North Kitsap, “or to say no. We’ve been good stewards of the tax dollar.”

Bainbridge Island Board Member Althea Paulson talked of friends and neighbors who are facing foreclosure or unemployment, but said, “We’ve cut all the fat there is to cut in the last couple of years. We’ve cut into muscle. If we keep going not addressing our technology needs, not addressing our collections needs, not addressing our building needs, we will start eroding our library.

“The library is more important than ever,” she added, “in sorting out all the information that’s out there and finding meaning and knowledge.”

Board President Gail Mathison, a South Kitsap resident, said, “This will create stability for KRL for 10 years or more. We can enhance our library services and replace our buildings.”

For Port Orchard leaders, the sticking point has always been how much more other cities were getting from the library district.

The levy calls for Silverdale to receive roughly $8 million with another $3.85 million going to Kingston to construct new libraries in both communities.

In addition, the district would allocate $4.5 million to maintain and staff both facilities.

By contrast, the KRL website explained that Port Orchard was scheduled to receive “up to” $3 million — provided the city could come up with a matching amount — to build a new Bay Street library by 2014 or 2015.

During his meeting with KRL officials on Wednesday, Coppola sought clarification on two points.

“First,” he said, “it isn’t ‘up to’ $3 million anymore. It’s $3 million. Also, there will be no requirement for a funding match from the city.

“I don’t know what they started out thinking they wanted,” he said, “but they left knowing they weren’t going to get it.”

Coppola said he wasn’t bothered that Port Orchard wouldn’t see the money until 2014 at the earliest.

“The library will project goes along with the new downtown parking garage,” he said, “and we won’t be ready to build that until late 2013 or early 2015 anyway.”

Washington law allows libraries to collect up to 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation. KRL last reached that tax rate in 2001.

In 2001, the state’s 1 percent limit on annual levy increases went into effect.

Since then, as property values increased, the library’s levy rate fell.

It reached a low of 28 cents in 2009, but the rate rose to 32 cents this year because of declines in property values.

Meanwhile, the cost of materials it buys and services has outpaced the increase in its property tax revenue.

That prompted the district to seek a levy increase in 2007.

But that proposal, which would have raised $6.7 million per year, was defeated by voters.

In response to that vote, KRL conducted a total review of its budget under the leadership of Chief Financial Officer Bob Goldstein.

The library system took a number of steps to bring projected increases in spending in line with foreseeable revenue increases.

KRL cut operating hours at each branch, reduced the budget for the purchase of books and other hours, lengthened the replacement schedule for computers and other technology and deferred needed maintenance at the buildings KRL owns.

In addition, KRL cut employee benefits, imposed a wage freeze for all employees in 2009 and redrew its salary schedule to reduce the regular annual increases for staff.

Money for substitute staff to fill in when regular employees are on vacation or on sick leave was reduced.

The KRL budget was balanced in 2008, 2009 and 2010, with spending at a level below annual income.

Cash reserves are no longer being used to subsidize spending.

KRL has posted information about the levy proposal and how the additional money would be used on its web site (www.krl.org), along with an extensive FAQ page.

Also posted is the levy lid lift resolution passed by the KRL board.

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