An initial review of funding options for the Seattle Public Library suggests that going to the voters for a levy lid lift to fund library operations may be the most promising possibility.  The other promising options — creating a separate library district or increasing the City’s overall revenues — seem to be more difficult and do not offer any more certainty.

In April, I noted that my concern about funding for the Seattle Public Library in these difficult budget times led me to take oversight of the library in my Regional Development and Sustainability Committee in order to work with the library on finding a new and independent source of funding.  While the Council has consistently restored some funding to the library when it has been cut by the Mayor, this will become increasingly difficult in future years, as public safety and human services take up much of the budget and are seen as priorities.

Seattle Public Library staff, working with Council staff and the City Budget office, have now completed their review of possible funding options, and submitted it to my Committee.  They first examined how other libraries in Washington are funded.  Surprisingly, Seattle is the only library system of the five serving more than 250,000 people that is not organized as a Library District, although it is joined by the 6th and 7th largest systems, Spokane and Tacoma.  This is because the State’s Library District legislation was designed to provide for the needs of relatively smaller jurisdictions, who could join together to provide services.  Now, however, some of these districts serve very large populations.

Nonetheless, the state legislation would have to be changed to allow cities to create Library Districts.  The analysis noted that even if this were possible, it would not be very different from going to the voters for a levy lid lift, since in either case voter approval would be required and property taxes are the only option.  And it might be difficult to get the state legislature to take action, since only Seattle would be interested, and we would have to work hard to get allies.

Even with the decline in property values as a result of the recession, Seattle would have plenty of capacity under state law to fund libraries with a voter approved levy.  The analysis noted that a more general government levy would be one additional option that could be considered, but that this would be out of the library’s control.

The 2011-2012 budget will be a difficult one for the library, but the Council will do our best to maintain critical services.  After this budget is completed in November, it is my intention to conduct a further Council review of the funding options.  If we confirm that a levy vote is the most reasonable option, we will then launch a public process in cooperation with Seattle Public Library to see when it would have public support.  My goal is to have a stable funding source in place before the 2013-2014 budget cycle.