King County Library exec says ballot measure is critical

King County Library System Executive Director Bill Ptacek, right, speaks at the Vashon Friends of the Library meeting on Saturday. At left is Friends president Deirdre Petree. - Amelia Heagerty/staff photo
King County Library System Executive Director Bill Ptacek, right, speaks at the Vashon Friends of the Library meeting on Saturday. At left is Friends president Deirdre Petree.
— image credit: Amelia Heagerty/staff photo

King County Library System’s top executive visited Vashon on Saturday to urge support for an upcoming ballot proposition.

Bill Ptacek rode his bike from Bellevue on the drizzly morning to speak to those gathered at the Vashon Friends of the Library meeting, explaining why he considers passage of the library proposition on Feb. 9 critical to the library system’s functioning.

Islanders’ ballots for the mail-in election includes a measure asking voters to approve a one-year levy lid lift, increasing the amount of money the King County Library System (KCLS) can collect from county property owners next year.

If Proposition 1 passes, the library system will collect 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed home value in 2011, a level of funding officials said would allow them to keep all the current library services and hours.

The passage of the proposition would cost the owner of a $400,000 home $32 a year more than he or she pays this year for the library system, which is currently planning an expansion of Vashon Library at Ober Park.

“We’re assuming the people who know the libraries and use the libraries will vote on it,” said Ptacek, KCLS’s executive director, on Saturday.

He was one of a dozen people in attendance at the Vashon Friends of the Library meeting, where he discussed the rationale behind Proposition 1 and what it would allow the library system to do.

The library system is funded almost entirely by property taxes, and because property values have gone down, the amount of money the system is able to collect from homeowners has gone down, too.

“Every few years, the library system has to go back to the voters to renew the library levy,” Ptacek said. “We don’t mind going back to the voters periodically, because in a way it’s a report card on how well the libraries are doing.”

Because of Washington’s Initiative 747, which voters approved in 2001, the library system can only raise its levy rate by 1 percent each year. The amount it costs to run the system increases by 4 to 5 percent each year, Ptacek said, outpacing that voter-approved ceiling and prompting KCLS to come to the voters with Proposition 1.

In 2010, KCLS’s levy lid is 42 cents per $1,000 of assessed home value; raising it to 50 cents would leave the library system with money left over in 2011 — money the system would save and use in future years, when its costs again outpace its levy rate increases, Ptacek said.

“We need about $10 million in the bank, and we’re going to drop below that if this doesn’t pass,” he said.

But a statement against the levy lid lift in the King County voter’s pamphlet urges voters to think twice before throwing their support behind Proposition 1.

The library system has mismanaged its money, the statement says, and hasn’t had to cut costs as drastically as school districts and other governments have.

Islanders in attendance at Saturday’s Friends of the Library meeting were quick to point out reasons to vote for Proposition 1, however.

“It’s very important that this passes,” said Susan Nyman, treasurer of the Friends. “Do you like the library? Do you find what you need? Is it serving the community? I have yet to hear a complaint about what happens in the library itself.”

Without the levy lid lift, the library system would have to make budget cuts of 10 to 15 percent across the board, including funding for books, technology and maintenance, according to the library system.

“Do you like the service you’ve been getting?” Ptacek asked at Saturday’s meeting. “Because that’s what’s really at stake. ... If you want that to continue, then you need to vote to support that.”

Ballots for the Feb. 9 mail-in King County election were sent out last week. They must be postmarked by Feb. 9 to be counted. Election results will be certified. Feb. 24.

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