Thursday, July 26, 2012

Library Levy


                                                                                    March 30, 2012

Seattle City Council
601 Fifth Avenue, Second floor
P. O. Box 34025
Seattle, WA 98124-4025

Proposed levy ordinance should hold harmless the existing funding of the Library, commit to increased hours and days of opening, and create a strong, independent, and geographically balanced oversight committee to ensure accountability

Dear City Councilmember:

Throughout our 66 year history, the Seattle Community Council Federation has strongly supported funding for the Seattle Public Library.  As you know, Council Bill 117425 is a proposed ordinance that would place before the voters a 7-year property tax levy of about $17 million/year. 

SCCF has not yet taken a position on the proposed levy, but believes that improvements in the levy ordinance are needed to make it most deserving of assent from the voters.  First, we suggest that C.B. 117425 be amended to commit the City Council not to cut the existing level of library support from the General Fund, and to increase the hours and days of the week in which the downtown library and the branch libraries are open.  As currently written, the proposed levy ordinance would allow the City Council to completely displace with levy funds the current level of General Fund support now provided to the Library, and not to make any increase in the hours or days of the week of being open. 

Without a City Council commitment to maintain General Fund support and to increase the hours and days of the week when the libraries are open, passage of the levy could leave the Library with no more funds than it has today, plus no assurance of continued funding when the levy runs out at the end of seven years.  Consider that although the 1999 parks levy provided operating support, when the levy ran out that funding was not fully restored from the General Fund, leaving Department of Parks and Recreation funding in worse shape than before the levy was passed.  

Our other concern is that C.B. 117425 does not include an oversight committee to ensure public accountability for spending of the levy proceeds.  We urge that the levy ordinance include a strong, independent, and geographically balanced oversight committee by use of the same language from Resolutions 29846, 29952, and 29997 that created the oversight committee for the Libraries for All bond measure.

Accountability for voter-approved levy and bond revenues via oversight committees has been central to voter approval of the bond and levy measures of recent decades.  Such committees have overseen not only the Libraries for All bond measure, but the Bridging the Gap transportation levy, Families and Education levy, Housing levy, and both Parks levies.  In almost all cases, the oversight committees were created by the ordinance that put the measure on the ballot.  Some of the committees have been more effective than others, but none have greater power, independence, or geographic balance than did the oversight committee for the Libraries for All bond measure. 

Taxpayers are more likely to approve a bond or levy measure if they know that spending of the revenues will be overseen by an oversight committee.  A strong, independent, and geographically balanced oversight committee is especially needed for the Library levy as it was for the Libraries for All bond measure because the Library Board has so much power but is not elected, and because of concerns that branch libraries will be sacrificed to the funding needs of the downtown library.  

The City Council created a public oversight committee for the Libraries for All bond issue shortly before the November 1998 election because the bond issue was being criticized for a lack of accountability in how the funds were to be spent.  SCCF urges the Council to be more proactive in this case by establishing the oversight committee in the bond issue ordinance (C.B. 117425), using the same language as was in Resolutions 29846, 29952, and 29997.  This letter was discussed, revised, and approved at the Seattle Community Council Federation’s March 27 meeting. 

                                                                                    Jeannie Hale, President
                                                                                    3425 West Laurelhurst Drive NE
                                                                                    Seattle, Washington  98105
                                                                                    206-525-5135 / fax 206-525-9631

cc:  Mayor; City Librarian and Library Board

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