The new seven-year levy, which must be cleared by the council and then by voters, would replace the city’s existing, $123 million library levy, which is expiring at the end of this year.
The council may alter the mayor’s plan before sending it to the Aug. 6 ballot. Councilmember Debora Juarez has scheduled a public hearing on the plan for 5:30 p.m. Thursday at City Hall.
Councilmember M. Lorena González is interested in adding money for programs targeted at children under 4 years old, while Councilmember Mike O’Brien is interested in adding money to keep all 27 library branches open for an additional hour each evening, Monday through Thursday.
Library programs for children under 4 tallied more than 106,000 attendees last year.
“This is a program that I think is very popular across the city,” González said, describing the levy as “an opportunity to nurture childhood development through a much more creative, accessible way” and help prepare kids for kindergarten.
González doesn’t yet know how much her idea might cost. O’Brien’s idea would cost $5.6 million over the life the new levy, according to a council-staff memo. They didn’t say whether they might seek cuts elsewhere in the mayor’s plan.
Under Durkan’s plan, the new levy would collect 12 cents per $1,000 of assessed value in 2020. It would cost the owner of a home of median assessed value about $7 per month, which would be about $1.58 per month more than the cost of the services provided by the existing levy, according to the Library.
Seattle’s population has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years, O’Brien noted, and assessed values have increased.
Under the mayor’s plan, $167 million would be used to retain services funded by the expiring levy, adjusting for inflation, while $46 million would be used to do more.
Durkan’s plan would allow four additional branches — Delridge, Green Lake, NewHolly and Wallingford — to operate on Fridays and would allow three branches — High Point, International District/Chinatown and South Park — to stay open longer in the mornings and evenings.
Separate from the levy, the Library intends to open all branches an hour earlier on Sundays, at noon.
O’Brien will likely propose adding money for additional weeknight hours, he said.
The council also is considering adding $2.6 million over the life of the new levy for air conditioners and elevators at the Columbia City, Green Lake and University branches. The mayor’s plan calls for those branches to undergo seismic renovations.
And the council is considering adding $6.1 million to convert community space in Seattle City Light’s new Denny Substation in South Lake Union into a micro-branch library.
Councilmember Lisa Herbold questioned that possibility. The Library should add service where it’s most needed, she said.
The most talked-about aspect of the new levy could be Durkan’s proposal to eliminate library fines for overdue items, at an estimated cost of $8 million over the life of the levy.
Such fines are barriers to library access that disproportionately affect people with less money and don’t result in items being returned on time, according to the Library.
Right now, the Library charges overdue fines of 25 cents per day for most items, up to $8 per item. Patrons who owe more than $15 are blocked from checking out and renewing items.
Under the mayor’s plan, the Library would continue to charge replacement fees for items not returned at all. Items are considered lost after 40 days, though they can still be returned after that time.
About 20 percent of the Library’s 500,000 accounts are blocked due to money owed. Percentages of accounts blocked at branches in less-wealthy neighborhoods are higher, as are average account balances.
For example, 36 percent of accounts at the Rainier Beach branch are blocked and the average balance is $14.77. Only 11 percent of accounts at the Northeast branch are blocked and the average balance is $4.79.
On Monday, Council President Bruce Harrell suggested the Library might want to continue to allow patrons to pay the fines, on a voluntary basis.
Councilmember Kshama Sawant objected, arguing that would “put the onus on families” to decide what to do.