Editorial: Library levy request misleads voters

February 4, 2010

By Staff

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Seattle Public Libraries are cutting costs by cutting hours at most of its libraries, while adding hours at other key library locations. The King County Library System should do the same. Instead, it is asking voters for more taxes, to return its maintenance and operations levy to the highest allowed levy rate of 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation.The levy rate was last at its lid of 50 cents in 2002, but the rate has dropped as property values increased and total collections were limited to a 1 percent annual increase. Currently, the rate is 36 cents. If voters approve the return to 50 cents, homes valued at $500,000 will pay an extra $70 in 2011 and beyond. The timing is all wrong. While library usage has increased significantly, a tax increase to the maximum allowed is an insult to struggling families. Furthermore, the wording on the ballot is misleading, allowing voters to think this is a one-time levy increase.

The ballot measure uses the phrase “to restore regular property tax levy rate.” This implies that the rate is usually 50 cents per thousand and they’re simply getting it back to where it belongs. This completely ignores the fact that even though the rate has gone down, homeowners have been paying more every year since the levy was last at 50 cents.

To those uninitiated in the way that Washington property taxes work, it could also imply that the tax is a one-year hike — that the following year, the rate will go back to where it is today.

It then makes a passing reference to a section of state law that governs the way taxes work. If you’re willing to wade through the fine print, you find that this is a tax hike that will be with homeowners forever, not a one-time, one-year fix.

It seems that many state and local agencies will ask for a tax increase this year. We understand the necessity, but homeowners are at a breaking point and something has to give.

We value the services the libraries provide, but this is not the time to lift the levy.

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