KCLS needs levy lid lift to sustain services

Julia Wilson, 4, and her friend Ella Horwood, 5, read a book about Tinkerbell in the children
Julia Wilson, 4, and her friend Ella Horwood, 5, read a book about Tinkerbell in the children's section of the Mercer Island Library on Thursday, Jan. 21.
— image credit: Elizabeth Celms/Mercer Island Reporter

Next to the levies supporting the Mercer Island School District, a quieter levy will appear on the Feb. 9 ballot.

The Board of Directors of the King County Rural Library District has adopted Resolution No. 2009-11, which concerns the district’s regular property tax levy. In order to provide continued funding for the operation and maintenance of the King County Library System (KCLS), this proposition would authorize the district to restore its regular property tax levy rate to 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed value for 2011. It would also allow the district to increase the levy in each year thereafter.

Although the King County Library System is not campaigning for voter support, director Bill Ptacek said that in order to maintain its current level of service, the levy lift must pass.

“Seattle public libraries are having terrible times right now. And Seattle is a good example of what could happen if the levy lift doesn’t pass,” he said, noting that Seattle Public Libraries runs off a separate system than KCLS.

Indeed, the Seattle Public Library System, faced with a $1 million budget reduction in 2009, cut the wages of approximately 700 employees, laid off managers and administrators, and reduced amenities at almost all of its branches. In order to prevent such repercussions among KCLS libraries, including the Mercer Island branch, Ptacek said that the property tax levy rate, which is currently at 42 cents per $1,000 in assessed value, must be lifted to 50 cents.

“The bottom line is, we’ve always known we’d have to go back to the voters on a lid lift since 2002 [the last time voters supported an increase]. We were prudent not to go back until we had to. And now we do,” the KCLS director said.

In the past two years — a clear result of the recession — King County libraries have seen a growing number of users, including the Mercer Island branch.

“Our libraries right now are in pretty good shape. We saw a 5 percent increase in 2008 and a 6 percent increase last year in business,” Ptacek said. “We’ve been working a lot with needy people in this economy, helping them get jobs and go back to school. There are a lot of access benefits at the public library — such as our computers and Internet access.”

Other people simply enjoy the library as a leisurely place to visit. The Mercer Island branch is bustling every afternoon. Kids pore over picture books in the children’s room, high-schoolers lounge at the Teen Center, and adults fill the libraries’ many computer stations, checking e-mail or researching online. The Mercer Island library is no lonely place.

“If you come between 3 and 6 p.m., we are packed to the gills. There isn’t room to sit or find space,” said Mercer Island librarian Amy Eggler, adding that media check-outs are especially popular. “Mercer Island is similar to the entire system in that our media collection is one of our most heavily used: DVDs, CDs, books on CD, you name it.”

With all of this usership, both Eggler and Ptacek are optimistic that voters will return the support and vote ‘yes’ for the levy lift.

“The service that we’ve provided over the last eight years is what people need to look at,” Ptacek said. “If they’re pleased, hopefully this will be reflected in the vote.”

For more information on the Feb. 9 KCLS levy lid lift, visit:

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