City of Spokane libraries have been running on reserves the last few years. With that money expended, and the pressure on city finances for public safety purposes unabated, the City Council has agreed to let voters decide whether to impose a new levy that will not only maintain library operations as they are today, but also expand hours at some of the neighborhood branches.
We urge voters to support the measure when ballots go out next week.
A library may be the only way an impoverished parent can put a book in the hands of a child. At 7 cents per $1,000 assessment, the levy will cost the owner of a $150,000 home $10.50 per year – half the cost of a new book, and book-lending is just the most important among the services the six branches provide.
For many, the libraries are their only access to the Internet, which may in turn be their only connection to friends and relatives. Just as important, the library terminals may be their best link to government agencies and businesses that accept job applications only via the Web.
Other users check out movies, music, digital and audio books, or access reference materials. Every branch has free public meeting space. For some, libraries may be the only public square where they meet other people.
Many other people. There were almost 1 million library visitors last year, more than 3,000 per day. But as use increased during the recession, staff was cut, and those remaining accepted minimal salary increases. Material purchases were deferred. Those economies allowed the system to accrue the reserves that will be gone by the end of the year.
Without more money, a branch or branches now on limited hours – East Side, Hillyard and Indian Trail – could be closed. We know from the support mustered two years ago against a proposed East Side closure that neighborhoods feel very strongly about their libraries.
The proposed levy will assure all remain open, and for longer hours. Voters should note, too, that the levy will sunset in four years. Meanwhile, legislation has been introduced that will allow Spokane, Seattle and other cities to form library districts. Like fire and school districts, a library district would be able to act and raise taxes without the consent of a City Council that, by the way, unanimously voted to put the library levy on the ballot.
Formation of a district is an issue for another day. But, looking back, recall that an overwhelming majority in 1990 voted to impose a 63-cent levy per $1,000 assessment. That tax, since expired, raised almost $29 million for new construction that changed the face of the city library system.
It was a tremendously wise investment, and securing expanded access to all those assets at the cost of $10.50 per year would be equally astute. Vote yes, and if you do not have one, get a library card, the better to understand the bargain.