It’s Time to Create Secure, Independent Funding for Libraries

I am a strong supporter of Seattle Public Library, and a frequent user of library services.  The Council has consistently added funds to the City budget to support additional hours and fund collections for the library.  In the 2010 budget process, Mayor Nickels proposed cutting some $1.3 million in funding for library hours, but the Council worked closely with the library to identify priorities for restoring hours, and ultimately added $860,000 in funding to bring back about two-thirds of the branch library hours proposed to be cut under the Mayor’s budget.  Because of the revenue decline resulting from the economic recession, every City Department faced budget cuts for 2010.  I and the Council made sure that the Library did not suffer disproportionately from these cuts.

As you know, the City will face significant budget challenges in 2010 and in preparing the 2011-2012 budgets, as the impacts of the recession continue.  Revenue for 2010 is falling several million dollars short of the budgeted amount, and the projections for 2011-2012 suggest that the City will need to cut up to $50 million (about 5%) out of the preliminary planned budgets for those years.   This will be a major challenge, and I expect that there will be impacts on Seattle Public Libraries.  I will do my best to keep those impacts to the minimum possible.

Unfortunately, because public safety and human services take up much of the budget and are seen as priorities, especially in a negative economic climate, the library is likely to see its budget recovery lag behind.  Even though the City does not have a true structural budget problem (like the County and State), which makes it impossible to match revenues to mandated expenditures, the library is only one of a number of competing priorities for general fund revenue.

For that reason, I have chosen to take oversight of the library in my Regional Development and Sustainability Committee, and hope to find a new and independent source of funding for Seattle Public Libraries, one which will take library funding out of the competition for general fund revenues.  Such a funding source might involve creating a Library District (as King County as done), seeking a separate library services levy, or some other mechanism.  We have already begun the research on options, and I hope to be able to bring a proposal to the voters in 2011 or 2012, depending on whether we need the State Legislature to modify the statutes governing libraries before we can proceed.