Seattle library levy passes

Arts and CultureLibraries

Like other city services, including police, fire, and parks, Seattle’s libraries have experienced big cuts in recent years because of the economic downturn. The book budget has been slashed, maintenance has been deferred, and branches have been closed on Sundays, Fridays and for a whole week during the summer. 

Library advocates say it’s time to step in and do something.

“This funding will allow the library to go back to the level that the citizens of Seattle deserve,” said Ross Baker, a supporter of Seattle’s library funding measure.

Here are the details of Proposition 1:

  • It’s a $123 million operating levy
  • Restore hours on Sundays and Fridays; eliminate weeklong summer furlough; expand the book budget. 
  • It would last 7 years
  • Cost $53 per year for the owner of the average home ($360,000)

“This is not good for the library,” said Chris Leman of Save Our Seattle Library. “The idea of having essential services, day-to-day services, be dependent on temporary funding is a terrible idea, because it undermines the whole notion of sustained, steady government.”

Levy supporters say going to the voters for temporary help is the only option left. 

“In a perfect world, all the costs of the library would be covered by the general fund,” said Baker. “However, because of the reduction in city revenue because of the great recession of 2007, the library has experienced significant cuts just like other essential city services.”

Opponents argue that this levy doesn’t have adequate protections built into it. Unlike the last library measure, which built the downtown library and several of the branches, this time there will be no citizen oversight committee tracking how the money is spent. 

“It is the least accountable levy put before the voters in a generation,” said Leman. “We can hope that what the pro side is saying will happen, but there is no requirement that it happen.”

Supporters say the existing leadership will make sure the levy money is allocated properly.

“The library is run by five trustees who are committed, responsible public servants,” said Baker. “They will make sure that the funds are spent accountably.”

City leaders say with or without the levy, the library system will have to undergo another $5 million cut in next year’s budget, further pressuring hours and book collections.

Voters will decide Tuesday whether to approve Proposition 1.

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