Library levy a double-edged sword for city

Port Orchard residents will vote in the upcoming primary election whether to annex the city into the library district and thereby gain the right to vote on the library district’s proposed property tax increase in November.

Staying out of the library district wouldn’t shield city residents from the effect of a lid lift, since their city is obligated under its contract with the library district to pay from the city’s general fund the higher amount dictated by the lid lift.

If Port Orchard voters reject annexation, their city services will be impacted by the increased payment from the general fund to the library district.

All other voters in Kitsap County would determine whether Port Orchard has to pay approximately $145,000 a year more to the library district, because the unincorporated county areas and all other cities are part of the district.

It’s not a question whether to maintain the city’s independence from the library district.

The city long ago entered into a contract with the library district so that city residents could enjoy the entire services of the Kitsap Regional Library system rather than being limited to whatever the city could afford on its own.

The library building in Port Orchard is owned and maintained by the city, but this branch library’s operations are entirely managed by KRL at KRL’s expense — meaning that taxpayers outside the city share in paying the costs.

This contract makes sense for city residents and those of us who live in the unincorporated South Kitsap area. We all benefit from having a better library in the city for our use.

However, when the library district’s tax is to be used to pay most of the cost of building new libraries in Silverdale and Kingston and much less for a new library in Port Orchard, as is proposed, the contract makes less sense.

In effect, the library tax increase would take revenue from South Kitsap, including Port Orchard, and spend it mostly for the benefit of residents in the Silverdale and Kingston areas.

Whether or not they consider the proposed uses for the additional revenue to be good ideas, refusing to annex Port Orchard into the library district leaves the city’s residents with the ability to express opinions but not the right to vote on the measure.

Compare the situation in Port Orchard to that of Poulsbo and its environs, and the advantage of having the right to vote on a library district lid lift is obvious.

Poulsbo residents and people living in the vicinity are part of a special taxing district which has been collecting property taxes for years to pay for the KRL branch library building in Poulsbo. It will be paid off in a few more years.

Voters in Poulsbo get to vote on the proposal that they begin paying more to build those other libraries while paying for their own.

Assuming that declining property values reduce total assessed values by 4 percent for taxes due in 2011 and 1 percent for 2012, both cities face the prospect of reduced property tax revenue to pay for city services because of a library district lid lift.

The maximum allowable tax rate for Poulsbo’s city levy would be reduced when the library district’s rate is raised.

If annexed into the library district, Port Orchard’s levy rate is likewise forced down. If not annexed, the rate is unaffected but more has to be paid from the general fund to KRL.

Poulsbo residents will get to vote on this shift of funding from the city to the library district, but without annexation into the library district, Port Orchard residents will not.

Poulsbo residents’ votes could decide the outcome on the lid lift, but if Port Orchard residents stay out of the district they can have no effect on the outcome.

Annexing into the library district does make Port Orchard residents vulnerable to higher taxes once property values begin to rise again. They, rather than the city’s general fund, would be paying the library district tax.

That’s what makes it a hard question for the voters of Port Orchard to answer.

Having a say in the matter brings with it the possibility of higher taxes at some point after 2012.

Bob Meadows is a Port Orchard resident.

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