Library lid lift needs to be an open book

So far, the Kitsap County Rural Library District board of trustees is approaching the idea of a property tax lid lift in a way that may make it practical for voters to decide rationally whether to approve or reject a tax increase.

Having put together a list of what the additional revenue would pay for, the trustees only need to put estimates next to each item on the list rather than leave it to voters to guess what each one might cost.

A ballot measure proposing a lid lift would ask the voters to approve a specific tax rate to be used in figuring their taxes for 2011.

This proposed tax rate has to be enough that it would collect the revenue needed to complete the items on the list as well as maintain the current level of service.

Since property values have been declining, the library district’s tax rate would go up next year even without a lid lift. Rather than this year’s rate of about $0.32 per $1000, it may be a little above $0.34 per $1000.

The items currently under consideration by the trustees would require approximately $3.6 million in additional revenue per year starting in 2011 to do what they plan.

Right now, determining the tax rate needed to add that revenue requires a little guessing. We don’t yet know what the library district’s total assessed value will be for taxes due in 2011.

If total assessed value of property in the library district declines by 5 percent, the rate on the ballot would need to be about $0.46 per $1000 to collect the ordinary levy increase plus another $3.6 million.

The trustees have to decide by July whether to put a lid lift proposition on the ballot for the November election, and by then they can have a better idea of the tax rate they need.

Assessed values that will be used in determining property taxes payable in 2011 will be available this June for property unaffected by new construction.

The library district’s total assessed value can be estimated with reasonable certainty once the values for individual properties are known.

Voters should find it easy to estimate the effect on their individual tax bills once they know the proposed tax rate.

They, too, can know by July the assessed value of their property for taxes due in 2011.

Rather than guess what the new rate and their new assessed values would do to their library district tax compared to what they pay this year, they can simply “do the math” to know the result of a lid lift.

Eliminating the usual guessing game about individual tax bills should allow voters to focus on the question whether the proposed revenue increase would be spent on things the voters want or need.

Knowing the effect on your own tax bill tells you whether you can afford the proposed tax increase, but it says nothing about the justification for the increase itself.

If the items on the list showing how the additional funds would be used aren’t things you want to pay for, it doesn’t matter that you could afford the tax increase.

A rational approach would involve deciding whether the increase is justified and whether you can afford it.

As the trustees proceed with their planning, they should be able to estimate the direct benefit to each area of the county that would result from a lid lift.

Their list of items indicates that some part of the additional revenue would be used to build new libraries in Silverdale and Kingston and to pay some undefined part of building a new library in Port Orchard.

By July, they should be able to tell taxpayers in South Kitsap how much of the additional revenue coming from this part of the county will be used for the libraries serving this area.

South Kitsap taxpayers would pay about 22 percent of the additional $3.6 million each year — or about $790,000.

The library district trustees need to ensure that we can know what that $790,000 will buy before South Kitsap voters mark their ballots.

Bob Meadows is a Port Orchard resident.

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