Pierce library system fronts levy bid

The Pierce County Library System’s restored levy lift would continue current levels of services and avoid deep cuts, and up to three library closures, as expenses outpace revenues from property taxes. Photo by Steve Dunkelberger

The Pierce County Library System will ask residents of unincorporated areas and of its 15 cities and towns that annexed into the district, including Lakewood, University Place, Fife, Gig Harbor and Steilacoom, for a restorative levy that would avoid deep cuts in library programs, books and classes.

The library board has slated the restored levy vote for the general election on Nov. 6. The Proposition 1 levy lid lift would maintain the current level of library services and return the district to the legal limit of 50 cents per $1,000 of property value. It would be about a dime more per $1,000 in value than what home owners pay now, or $32 a year for the average home worth $320,000.

Voters last reauthorized a levy in 2006, which was projected to maintain services for six years and has lasted twice that length. But the rising population and the rocketing number of library card holders has outpaced funding. Population has increased 16 percent, while the number of library card holders has jumped by 63 percent and material borrowing has increased 33 percent since that levy passed 12 years ago.

Libraries are really driven by the community so it is always evolving.

The library system has absorbed $20 million in those changing costs through streamlining, reducing staff and foregoing maintenance since 2009. The district, for example, has fewer employees than it did in 2006, from 350 to 343, and has delayed repairs to branches that are largely more than 20 years old and serve more than 2 million visitors a year.

Exacerbating the revenue-versus-expense gap is the fact that costs have increased an average of 4 percent a year while property tax revenue has been largely flat at just 2 percent a year. The rising costs come from the changing nature of libraries from places to just borrow books, movies and music to facilities that offer digital-literacy classes, small-business workshops, educational programs and banks of computers for visitors to use for projects, find jobs or email friends. All of those offerings have boomed; 79 percent for classes and 44 percent for computer uses since 2006.

“Libraries are really driving by the community,” said Pierce County Library Executive Director Georgia Lomax. “So it is always evolving.”

The restored levy would keep the current service level and open hours at the library’s 20 locations, which is a challenge since the district is asking for more money just to stand still instead of asking for money to expand services.

“It’s not flashy,” Lomax said. “What we’ve heard from people is that they want more. It is a little frustrating that people have big visions of what the library system can be.”

A cap of 1 percent on new property taxes that voters approved two decades ago, however, doesn’t allow for the library system – or other junior taxing districts — to ask for more money even if residents want more books, classes or programs.

“This is a decision of the voters of what they want their library system to be like,” said Lomax, noting that a vote against the restored levy lift would be just as valid as a vote for it. “It is their choice, but it will be a different level of service.”

The library system would have to cut hours, close up to three branches, offer up to 20 percent fewer materials and cut classes by about 40 percent.

More information is available at: levy.pcls.us.


Impacts of a restored levy

If the restored levy is approved, the Library would continue to invest in the following services the public said are a top priority:

Weekend, weekday and evening hours

  • 20 libraries and 24/7 access to online resources.
  • Nine libraries open seven days a week and nine libraries open six days a week.
  • Pierce County Libraries are welcoming spaces, with 2 million annual visits.

Books, movies and other materials

  • 5 million printed and downloadable books, audiobooks and magazines as well as movies
    and music.
  • Museum passes.
  • Book club kits.
  • Online resources such as genealogy, investing and car repair.

Staff to help

  • Give personalized reading recommendations.
  • Support growth and learning with thousands of classes and events.
  • Inspire school success: story times, block play, online homework help, and Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) classes.
  • Build career skills: in-library and online tools and classes to help people get jobs.

Computer, Wi-Fi and technology

  • Computers with internet access and printers in every library.
  • Wi-Fi connections.

Community spaces

  • Meeting rooms.
  • Community events and forums.

Partnerships deliver programs such as blood drives, voter registration and mental health
first aid.

If the levy fails, the library would have to:

reduce hours by 10 percent

  • Close on Sundays.
  • Close on Thursday evenings.
  • Close earlier on Monday-Wednesday evenings.

14-21 percent fewer books, e-books, movies and other materials

  • In 2017 Pierce County Library spent less money per person on books and materials than any other similarly sized library in the region:» Pierce County Library: $6.42 per person.
    » Other libraries: $8.07-$12.19 per person.
  • In 2019 Pierce County Library would spend $4.60–$5.10 per person.

40 percent fewer classes and events

  • 2017: 4,400 story times, STEM classes, job skills classes and technology workshops.
  • 2019: 2,600.

Close libraries

  • Close 2-3 libraries.
  • The Library System would conduct a public process to identify which locations to close.

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