The Seattle City Council has voted to place a $123 million, seven-year levy on the Aug. 7 primary ballot to restore and enhance library services across the city.
The Seattle City Council voted unanimously Monday to place a $123 million, seven-year levy on the Aug. 7 primary ballot to restore and enhance library services across the city.
The levy would add Sunday hours to branch libraries now closed two days a week, rebuild collections, upgrade computers and fund building maintenance.
Council members rejected some community groups’ call for a citizens oversight committee to ensure accountability for how the funds are spent.
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Councilmember Nick Licata, who urged such an oversight committee for the Libraries for All construction bond measure in 1998, said the current levy would fund existing operations and restore services cut because of the recession.
“We are not financing new lines of business. The library has provided a detailed outline of where the money is going. I’m very comfortable going forward with this,” Licata said.
Budget cuts over the past four years have forced the library to close 15 of 26 branch libraries on Fridays and Sundays. The entire system is shut down the last week of August, when the staff, for the past three years, has taken unpaid furlough. The levy would end the weeklong furlough.
Budget officials said last month that with the city facing a $40 million shortfall in 2013, the libraries’ share of additional cuts could total $5 million.
“Libraries are not a luxury, they are a necessity for our patrons who depend on our resources to look for jobs, get homework help, or start a new business,” City Librarian Marcellus Turner said at a news conference in advance of the council vote.
The levy would raise about $17 million a year to supplement the libraries’ annual general-fund budget of about $50 million. It would cost the owner of a median-priced $361,000 home $52 a year.
“Without stable funding, the vision of libraries for all is at risk,” Marie McCaffrey, president of the library board of trustees, said at the news conference.
Only one person appeared before the council to oppose the levy. Chris Leman, treasurer of the Seattle Community Council Federation, said Seattle property taxes are increasing “to the breaking point.” Leman said that other levy and bond measures, including the families and education levy approved in November, have created a citizens oversight committee to review and advise the mayor and City Council about the programs funded by the levy.
“This levy has less accountability than any major levy or bond measure passed in the past 25 years,” Leman said. The City Neighborhood Council also called for an oversight committee in a letter to the City Council.
But council members said the funding provided by the levy would be managed by the library board of trustees, a citizen group, appointed by the mayor and council, whose meetings are open to the public.
Councilmember Richard Conlin, who chaired the council committee that developed the levy proposal, said the levy would fund a defined set of services and that an oversight committee isn’t needed.
“We like to have them when there’s substantive work to be done. I don’t think it’s necessary to have for window dressing,” Conlin said.
Conlin also disputed the contention that property taxes in the city are out of sight. He noted that a fire-facilities levy would expire this year and that another for the Pike Place Market would expire in 2014.
Council President Sally Clark said the council would not forfeit its responsibility to ask library officials tough questions during annual budget deliberations.
She called quality libraries a “fundamental issue of livability” and said she thinks voters will be “willing to stretch” for a community service they value.
Lynn Thompson: 206-909-7580 or email@example.com. On Twitter @lthompsontimes.