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Spokane library trustees ask to extend tax

The Spokane Public Library, opened in 1994, sits at Main and Lincoln in Spokane. Photo taken Sept. 12, 2011. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
The Spokane Public Library, opened in 1994, sits at Main and Lincoln in Spokane. Photo taken Sept. 12, 2011. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Spokane library trustees want voters to decide whether to extend a property tax that helps fund library services.

The Board of Trustees approved a recommendation that the property tax levy of 7 cents on $1,000 in property value be extended by seven years.

Spokane voters approved the tax in 2013 with a 66 percent “yes” vote, but it was limited to four years. It came at a time when the libraries had gone through tight years and were facing deeper cuts, officials said.

The tax currently raises about $1 million a year, but expires at the end of 2017.

Library Executive Director Andrew Chanse said the 7-cent levy “has really improved basic library services … We made promises and we kept them.”

The comments came during a joint session Thursday between the library trustees and Spokane City Council members.

The trustees asked the council to place a seven-year renewal of the 7-cent levy on a special election ballot next February. The cost of the tax on a $200,000 property would be $14 a year.

City Councilwoman Amber Waldref told the trustees, “We are generally interested in getting on (the ballot) next year.” But Waldref asked city staff to provide a series of ballot options for the council.

The current tax is called a “levy lid lift” because it increases the city’s share of the regular property tax beyond the state’s limitation of a 1 percent annual increase.

The money is being used to expand library hours at the Hillyard, East Side and Indian Trail branches, among other services.

Also under the four-year tax, Sunday hours were implemented at the Shadle branch; print and digital resources were expanded; digital streaming services were added; more outreach has gone to retirement centers; collaboration has expanded with schools and community organizations; and additional resources have been available for businesses and job searches.

All of those programs would be threatened if the tax extension fails to win voter approval, Chanse said.

Nathan Smith, chairman of the trustees, noted that the strong voter approval in 2013 showed just how much the public supports the libraries.

Extending the tax would provide a stable source of library funding at time when library trustees and staffers are researching what kinds of building improvements are needed in coming years, Chanse said.

He said that all of the city’s six libraries need updating to meet growing trends toward digital information access.

Both the Shadle and South Hill branches need to be expanded, and the Downtown Library needs renovation to accommodate the changing missions of libraries.

He said future libraries should also be places for people to gather in groups such as classes to learn. Layouts of the libraries need to make more room for that.

“We are bringing the library into the modern world,” Chanse said.

He estimated that such a capital program might cost $30 million or more.

“Libraries of the future aren’t just about collections,” Chanse said.

City Councilwoman Lori Kinnear asked whether the library foundation might be able to raise money for capital needs, but Chanse replied that the amount that would be needed is likely much higher than fundraising campaign could achieve.


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