Sequim Citizens for Libraries are preparing to hit the streets for a proposed lift to the North Olympic Library System levy.
Kate Adams, Sequim leader for the group and Sarah Bedinger, campaign consultant, said they are beginning to organize volunteers and endorsements to educate people about the need for the levy increase.
It's been 32 years since the library system that includes Sequim, Port Angeles, Forks and Clallam Bay asked for a levy increase.
"It's reached the critical point," North Olympic Library System director Paula Barnes said.
"Basically, since the state law changed in 2001 there's been a 1-percent limit that the library's budget can grow each year," Barnes said.
"That's combined with the inflation rate going up 2.3 percent each year and costs going up more than revenues."
Slimming the binding
Barnes said that since 2003, the libraries have not filled vacant positions and have cut hours while cutting materials and not keeping equipment updated.
Because of decreasing revenue, unionized library staff approved two weeklong furloughs, one was March 29-April 3 and the next is Aug. 30-Sept. 4.
Staff said this prevented any more staff from being cut this year.
But this time off wasn't enough to bridge all of the $176,043 shortfall, so the board of trustees voted to bring money from reserves to balance the 2010 budget, which is nearly $3 million.
Barnes and staff say if the levy doesn't pass, then more closures, staff and materials cuts could happen.
Stability for 10 years
Library staff drafted the NOLS 2012 business plan that would secure financial stability for the libraries and make needed repairs for the next 10 years.
The plan's proposed levy asks voters to raise the current levy of about 33 cents to 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed property valuation throughout Clallam County for collection in 2011. To pass, the levy lift requires 50 percent of the total vote.
Long time coming?
In March 2008, the Sequim Gazette reported that a public committee advised the board of trustees not to pursue a levy because of a poor economic climate and due to Barnes being a new hire.
She had worked as director only a few months and they wanted to see if she could make operations more efficient.
"I wanted to make sure the levy process was as transparent as possible," Barnes said. "We wanted to connect with the public and see what input they had."
Since the board approved NOLS the 2012 plan, they and staff have led informational gatherings at the four branches.
"The NOLS board has really done their homework on the 2012 plan," Bedinger said.
"The whole plan is based on years of discussion and input from people to keep the whole system strong."
"I think we've done a really good job of responding to community demand and questions," Barnes said.
"The one question/concern across the county is property taxes. It's not about the library but an increase in taxes."
Barnes said support from Sequim for its branch has been tremendous.
Ever since renovation in April 2009, the customer count has gone up in double digits every month.
"The branch has been checking out more than Port Angeles the last few months," Barnes said.
"Since we started doing more programs and doing a better job of publicizing, business has been going through the roof - almost literally."
In surveys, Sequim's users expressed concern about longer and more convenient hours and having enough materials.
"They want more books but also more media," Barnes said. "The levy does respond directly to those needs."
She said with the increased circulation, the shelving and space in the library has become too small.
"It was built for a population in 1982," Barnes said.
"The levy would bring funding for a needs assessment towards design development for a new building in the future and what kind of library the Sequim community envisions through forums."
Leading the campaign across the North Olympic Peninsula is Citizens for Libraries, comprised of leaders from each Friends of the Library branch and public supporters.
Bedinger said each branch's efforts is separate but similar.
"In Clallam Bay and Forks, they might choose to phone homes," Bedinger said.
"In Port Angeles and
Sequim, they might go door-to-door and wave signs on street corners."
Each branch's citizens' group leads one of four kickoff events in July.
Sequim's kickoff event begins 5 p.m. Wednesday, July 7, at McComb Gardens. Other events are: Tuesday, July 6, in Clallam Bay; Thursday, July 8, in Port Angeles; and Friday, July 9, in Forks.
People can pick up buttons, yard and window signs or volunteer. Adams and Bedinger say this is when the levy becomes more visible.
"It's important for everyone to realize that if there's a huge expense at one library, then it doesn't matter which one it is," Bedinger said.
"It takes away from the others operating long-term, so then everyone suffers."
In the coming month, NOLS will send an informational flyer to all residents in the county.
Ballots go out July 28 for local voters and in early July for out-of-area military voters.
The election is Tuesday, Aug. 17.
For more on NOLS 2012, contact Barnes at firstname.lastname@example.org, 417-8525 or visit www.nols.org.
Reach Matthew Nash at email@example.com.
The Sequim Gazette is located at 147 W. Washington Street in Sequim.
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