Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Voters likely to get library plea

Council considers items to go on February ballot

Lauren Parker and her daughter, Evelyn, 2, along with Carey Eyer and his daughters, Neili, 4, and Ivy, 1, participate in the reading of “If You’re Happy and You Know It” during Teddy Bear Teas on Friday at the Spokane Library downtown branch. (Dan Pelle)

There could be something for almost everyone on a special election ballot in February.

Originally wary of spending the money to hold a special election, the Spokane City Council on Monday appears ready to send three items to the ballot for voters to consider. The council last week set aside $200,000 to hold the election.

Besides a change to the City Charter that would require a supermajority of votes to raise taxes, the council will consider an amendment to place rules for a police ombudsman in the City Charter.

Another proposal, called a levy lid lift, would boost library funding by increasing taxes by 10 cents for each $1,000 of taxable property value. The city’s library board says the tax would prevent branch closures and extend hours.

Council President Ben Stuckart said he likely will lower the proposed tax to 7 cents per $1,000 of property value at Monday’s meeting to make the plan more likely to win approval from the council.

The lower amount would generate about $1 million a year. It would allow branches to increase hours, but not to 1999 levels – the original goal of Stuckart’s proposal. A levy lid lift of 15 cents per $1,000 of assessed value was proposed for libraries by former Councilman Richard Rush in 2011, but it never made the ballot.

“Part of the reason I want a levy lid lift is because I want more stories read to kids by our library system,” Stuckart said. “I believe access to knowledge is a fundamental right.”

At Monday’s council meeting, Councilman Mike Fagan criticized the city’s library for providing programs that he said were beyond “core services,” including story time and helping kids with homework.

Fagan said Friday that despite his criticism of library spending, he will vote to place the tax on the ballot. Fagan works with Tim Eyman at Voters Want More Choices, the group that has placed many items on the statewide ballot, often related to restricting tax increases.

“If people want these programs, great, let them vote for them,” he said, adding that he doesn’t personally believe more library taxes are necessary given public safety needs. “I agree with the mayor. I believe the library could be more innovative.”

Mayor David Condon has opposed placing the library tax on the ballot, saying he believes the library system should be more innovative before asking for taxes. City spokeswoman Marlene Feist said lowering the amount of the tax would not change his position.

“He’s eager to work with the library board on the 21st-century library model,” Feist said.

Most City Council members, however, have praised the Spokane Public Library for its ability to maintain services in recent tight budgets.

“I feel good at the 7-cent level that it’s an acceptable amount that I hope the citizens can get behind,” Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin said.