When Tim Eyman’s property tax capping initiative 747 was approved by voters in 2001, Whatcom County Library Service (WCLS) officials figured they had enough reserve funding to cushion them for several more years to come. What they didn’t anticipate, however, was the recent economic downturn and an inverse increase in library usage by patrons.
Now, officials are putting it to the voters. This November 3, Whatcom County residents will be able to decide how much and what services they will receive in the years ahead. “We knew this was coming,” said Joan Airoldi, WCLS director. “What we didn’t anticipate was the economy was going to be in such bad shape. At the same time, our circulation is increasing because people are wanting to cut back on their expenses so it’s not a good time to cut back on our services because people need us.”
The levy would increase the amount of revenue the library can collect beyond the 1 percent increase per year cap as enforced by I-747. Airoldi said the average homeowner who owns a $250,000 home can expect about a 10 cent increase per $1,000 assessed value of their home – about a $25 increase annually, up from about $80. Ballots will be mailed in October.
Airoldi, however, said because of the 1 percent cap, WCLS will need to go back to the voters every four or five years, similar to a school district levy. “It’s going to be an ongoing process,” she said.
If approved, the levy will help fund books, staff availability, children’s and teens’ programming, new collections in a variety of formats, expand interlibrary loan services, and offer internet access and remote access to the catalog. If voters turn it down, WCLS will go back to the board to see what services can be cut. And as the demand for services continues to grow with population in Blaine and Birch Bay, that will become more and more difficult, she said. Usage in 2008 was already up 10 percent from 2007, the largest jump in growth in several years.
“It’s really a hard decision and it’s in the hands of the voters on what kinds of services they’d like to see in the future,” she said. “But we’re optimistic.”