For the third time in eight years, voters in rural Skagit County rejected taxing themselves to create a library district. In unofficial results released...

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For the third time in eight years, voters in rural Skagit County rejected taxing themselves to create a library district.

In unofficial results released yesterday, only 45 percent of the 26,000 rural Skagit County voters supported the library measure, which would have given them access to all county libraries.

In the 1990s, voters twice narrowly rejected taxing themselves to create a library district.

The issue of library access arose last year when the Mount Vernon Library Board decided to close the city library to nonresidents.

Rural users were paying $80 a year to use the Mount Vernon library, but Mount Vernon Library officials said they couldn’t afford to keep it open to those who didn’t live in the city.

The board eventually changed its mind, but by then the group, Skagit Libraries for All, was circulating a petition asking that the library-district issue be placed on the ballot.

Sara Holohan, chairwoman of the Skagit Libraries for All committee, which put the measure on the ballot, said she was dismayed, but not entirely surprised, that the measure failed.

“People are in a very anti-tax mood,” said Holohan, of Anacortes. “And it’s hard in a special election to get enough information out.”

She said many voters believe those who use the libraries should pay for them, as they do now, rather than have all rural county property owners pay.

The Mount Vernon Library Board’s change of mind probably hurt the ballot measure, she said, because many residents decided they’d rather pay the $80 fee than see their property taxes increase.

The proposed tax could not have been more than 50 cents per $1,000 of valuation. Supporters pegged the assessment at about 39 cents per $1,000.

The owner of a $200,000 home would have paid $78 a year, about what a Mount Vernon library card costs.

Supporters of the measure pointed out that there are 37,000 residents in rural Skagit County. Half of the county’s school-age children live in rural areas and have no access to libraries unless they buy a card. They said many of the low-income county residents can’t afford the cards.

Holohan said her group will continue to meet and lobby for library improvements, and may put a similar measure on a future ballot.

Susan Gilmore: 206-464-2054 or sgilmore@seattletimes.com