Library Operational Levy Lid Lift


The Library is asking the community for a levy lid lift on the August 6, 2024 ballot. The Library has been frugal and strategic with its last levy lid lift reserves and annual funding but needs to ask for a new levy lid lift in order to sustain the current level of library services, programs, and collections. This is needed money to fund the Library’s operations, not a new library building.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Why is the Library asking for a Levy Lid Lift?

The Library’s operational budget with a legal limit of 1% on annual levy increases cannot keep pace with inflation, and the banked reserve funding from the previous levy lid lift approved in 2011 is nearly gone. The Library needs additional funding in order to sustain operations at current levels.

All junior taxing districts, including the Library, can increase annual tax revenue by no more than 1% per year. Due to inflation and the rising costs of staffing & resources, that 1% doesn’t cover increased annual costs. For this reason, all junior taxing districts must periodically ask for levy lid lifts to raise the levy rate for their operational budgets. The Library has been frugal and strategic with its annual funding, but the Library operational budget is strained beyond what is sustainable.

The Library delayed asking for its next levy lid lift for longer than originally promised. The Library last asked for a levy lid lift in 2011 and committed to making it last for six years, from 2012-2018.  The Library used those funds carefully and made them last an additional six years beyond that earlier commitment. However, the Library’s funds have been stretched as far as they can with reserves nearly exhausted.  With large budget deficits and deferred maintenance coming in the next couple of years, now is the critical time to bring this important issue back to the community.

The following shows how inflation has sharply affected the annual operational budget:

  • Budgets for Adult and Youth supplies, programs and collections have been stagnant for the last several years. This means that money for programs, supplies, and collections has less buying power and therefore procures less each year. Additional funding is needed in order to keep the high quality programs, services and collections our Library is known for.
  • In the past several years the Library has worked to add new, well-received services and programs, many of which were funded by grants and private donations. These new services and programs include some of our most popular offerings, including the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten, and PrimeTime Family Reading. Often, successful programs begun with donation or grant money may later require funds from the operational budget to continue and maintain the program, placing a greater strain on the Library’s budget.
  • Finding and securing these additional funds also represents an additional strain on library staff, and though the Library will always look to use grants and additional funding to supplement its operational budget, it becomes increasingly unsustainable as the library operations budget falls further behind. Applying for grants, donations, and other sources of funding to help cover the budget gaps takes time away from preparing and planning the actual programs and collections.
  • Staff salaries have risen slower than inflation and the increased cost of living for the last several years. It is important to provide the community members who work at the Library with fair pay. Recruiting new staff becomes increasingly difficult if salaries fall behind national and state averages.
  • The operational budget is stretched to the point that normal maintenance and replacement of facility areas is long delayed. Pressing maintenance and safety issues such as replacing badly stained carpeting and flooring, worn furniture, and other out-of-date elements are postponed.

Has the Library been responsible with past funds?

The Library’s last levy lift in 2011 was intended to last through 2018. Careful budgeting doubled this time to 2024.

At the time of the last levy lid lift, the Library committed to make it last from 2012-2018, a six year commitment. Through careful management, the Library has managed to extend that time through 2024, an additional six years. The Library works to ensure that funding goes to providing the best resources and latest technologies & ideas to community members. Since 2011 the Library has changed and adapted with local and national trends, while staying true to our original goals of providing a welcoming and engaging library for our community. Compared with libraries across the state, San Juan Island Library proudly measures well.

The San Juan Island Library operates at a high caliber and is an excellent reflection of San Juan Island’s vibrant cultural community. To illustrate:

  • The Library was the recipient of the 2015 EBSCO Excellence in Rural Public Library Service Award from the Public Library Association. The national award, bestowed upon only a single library each year, recognizes a public library serving a population of 10,000 or less that demonstrates excellence of service to its community.
  • The Library regularly places highly in many measures of library excellence, often rating among the top 10 when compared against other libraries. For example:
    • Based on per capita calculations from 2022 data, compared against all Washington public libraries, our small library is:
      • 7th highest for annual library visits
      • 8th highest for highest circulation
    • The Library also compares well against libraries of similar community size (from 5,001-25,000):
      • The 2nd largest collection per capita (outdone only by Orcas Public Library, which serves a smaller population but has nearly the same size of print collection (40,257 compared to our 44,700))
      • The 5th largest program attendance, and is only out-competed by four library systems that all have significantly higher service populations. (Ellensburg, Anacortes, Liberty Lake, and Whitman)
  • The Library sees continuing strong community use, with 60% of residents holding library cards. Having 3 out of every 5 community members hold a library card is a phenomenal level of integration with the community. Programs and resources are regularly used past capacity, with feedback communicating desires for more programs and resources.

What services would the Library add, restore, or improve with this additional funding?

There are several popular services and programs the Library would like to add, restore, or improve, but are unable to do so under the current budget. See In Context for greater detail.

The following are some of the services the Library would add, restore, or improve if the levy lid lift were passed.

  • Open for evening hours with a new English Language Learning program.
  • Replace and refresh worn or stained flooring, furniture, signage, and indoor paint.
  • Increase Seattle Arts & Lectures programs, such as the popular Barbara Kingsolver and David Brooks author programs in late 2023.
  • Increase budgets for books and other collections.
  • Add additional cultural and youth programming.

One of the most long-lasting changes from COVID-19 was to the Library’s hours of operation. Roles changed, and with the stagnation of our current budget, the Library has not yet restored full hours. Hours on the weekends have been expanded (10-5 on Saturday and 12-3 on Sunday), but evening hours are still closed.  A levy lid lift would enable us to restore evening hours and a new English Language Learning program.

What will happen if the Library doesn’t get this operational levy?

Operations using the current budget without an increase in revenue will result in reduced programs, collections, and services; staff cuts; reduced hours; and deferred building maintenance.

Simply put, the Library’s services would be reduced, and high cost needs such as building maintenance and safety would fall behind.

Without a new levy lid lift, and with the last levy lid lift reserves depleted, the Library’s budget would have to undertake severe cuts. While some cuts would have to begin in 2025, the 2026 budget would have to be cut by at least $400,000–or 19% of the entire Library budget.  Staff positions would be reduced, with some positions cut entirely.  With fewer staff members having shorter hours, open hours would have to be cut back even further.  Collection budgets, which have not grown over the past several years to keep up with inflation, would be cut by 50% or more, from $140,000 to $70,000 or less.  Programs, whose budgets have not grown, would also be cut by 50%. Permanently stained carpeting in the main salon would remain, steadily getting worse.  Aging indoor paint, signage, and broken furniture would continue in the state they have been rather than getting refreshed or replaced.

Does the Library spend operating money on the new building project? Will a levy lid lift fund the new building?

No. The levy lid lift will be used solely to continue current library operations, and the building project will continue only if other financial support is raised to fund the new library.

The Library treats library operations and the building project as separate financial budgets with little overlap. The Library needs funds to continue operating as it is, regardless of what building the Library is in. The levy lid lift would provide these necessary operational funds.

The regular tax levy funds the Library’s annual budget.  This is an operational budget based on anticipated income primarily from a tax levy collected twice a year by the County. It does not include funding for large capital projects such as construction, site acquisition, etc. that is necessary for the creation of a new library facility.

Will the Library ask for another capital bond to build a new library?

The Library will ask for another capital bond of a smaller amount at a later date. The levy lid lift is not related to a capital bond.

$12 million was too much to ask in the 2022 proposed capital bond, and the Library will bring down that target amount significantly. The new goal is to fund a minimum of 60% of the total project costs from donations, grants, and major gifts. $2 million has already been awarded by the Washington Department of Commerce. A future library bond will seek 40% or less of the total funding ($8 million or less), depending on private fundraising and lower cost estimates.


How much would the levy lid lift increase my taxes?

The new levy lid lift would adjust the levy rate from 25.39 cents per $1,000 to 41 cents. For a $750,000 home, that would result in an approximate $113 annual increase in taxes.

This level would provide the Library with needed funds for 10 years, through 2034. As part of this levy lid lift, the library commits to refraining from seeking a new lift until 2035.

The Library board considered various budget projections with varying annual percentage increases to account for inflation. They determined how long resulting reserves would last in each budget at varying levy rates, and how high the reserve levels would go. The goal was to select a budget at a levy rate that would yield the required funding to sustain Library services, but not take in more funding than was needed.  An increase  from the current levy rate of 25.39 cents per $1,000 to 41 cents  was determined to be the most reasonable scenario to fund a medium budget with adequate but not excessive funding.

The type of levy lid lift being sought is a single-year permanent levy.  The levy rate would be permanently reset to the new levy rate in the first year, bringing in extra revenue to bank as reserves to draw down in the following years.  For the next nine years, the amount levied would increase by only 1% over the previous year’s levy, reverting to the 1% levy cap.

The State limits levy rates for libraries to 50 cents per $1,000.  In seeking 41 cents, the Library is asking only for what it needs to maintain and moderately improve current library services.

Why is funding for the library so important?

The Library’s important role in the community, with extensive programming, resources, and access to information, requires an increase in revenue to maintain these services.

Community members enjoy having a library that provides community gathering spaces, an outstanding collection that provides education and entertainment, programming and cultural experiences, professional development, individual learning, internet access, small business and organization meeting space, and more. For some community members on tight budgets, the Library is the sole way to access these resources. Although the levy lid lift represents a small financial cost to community members, the provided resources and cultural space heartily repay the investment for the community.

Communities share their culture and grow their communities in their local library. Here is a short list of some of the highlights from the last few years in the Library:

  • The Library has expanded what can be borrowed. A high quality collection of books will always be a priority, but we also have extensive collections of movies, audiobooks, games, puzzles, equipment, magazines, and more.
  • We continue to expand our book collections to engage with different community groups. A few examples: A growing Spanish language collection for those who prefer to read in Spanish, graphic novel collections for adults, teens, and youth who want to engage with pictorial storytelling, and Wonderbooks, which pair a traditional book with an electronic device that can read the book to you, assisting in reading and learning.
  • Our Library of Things includes many kinds of equipment freely available for checkout.
    • Aids for Better Living–devices to help those with varying abilities navigate their lives more easily, such as Enchroma sunglasses for those who are red-green colorblind, or tools to help those unable to grip kitchen items securely
    • Discover Passes for state parks
    • Birdwatching Kits
    • A telescope
    • Event equipment for residents needing technology support for holding meetings or events outside of the Library
  • The Library has also worked to keep up with the rapid pace of technology. Computers and printing continue to be available, and equipment such as laptops, hotspots, projectors, and many other devices are available for checkout. We also offer free technology assistance for those needing help with their own devices.
  • A meeting room with equipment to provide hybrid in-person and zoom meetings.
  • The collection of databases continues to be enriched, and includes access to free ebooks, e-audiobooks, movies, articles, newspapers, magazines, educational classes, and more for the community.
  • During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Library innovated to provide library services in a safe manner for the community and for staff. This included improving our air filtration system, drive-through window service, curbside pickup, and boosting and expanding the hours for our wifi signal outside the Library.
  • Programs have expanded to include new programming such as streaming programs from Seattle Arts and Lectures, films from the Friday Harbor Film Festival, After School Art Bars, Upper Elementary Book Club, Storywalk installations, and more.
  • Established a Teen Library Council, giving community teens leadership opportunities in the Library.
  • Expanded 3D printing services allowing the public to bring in designs and print them on the Library’s 3D printer.
  • Expanded outreach services, including regular visits to the New Day Cafe and the Village at the Harbor.
  • A new online events calendar with patron self-registration for programs and meeting room space, and improved tracking & navigation.
  • Celebrated 100 years of libraries on San Juan Island.
  • Mini art shows that showcase the spectacular artistic talent on the island.
  • Multiple high quality youth programs, many focused on improving early literacy, in partnership with local and national organizations, including the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten, PrimeTime Family Reading, community storywalks, and many more.
  • A new, easy-to-access library card for those in unstable housing situations.
  • Expanded author talks from national celebrities like Barbara Kingsolver and David Brooks
  • Improved equipment and crafting supplies in support of the island community’s vibrant creative spirit.

What work does the library do for youth education and enrichment?

The Library champions literacy and invests in a plethora of resources for youth learning, enrichment, and fun. The Library also provides a safe place filled with resources and technologies for kids, all of which prompt healthy development.

Youth Services at the Library provides many resources and services for our youth. These include:

  • Fantastic collections of books based on all reading levels, complete from babies to first readers, all the way up to high school levels.
  • Collections of media and other materials to support literacy, including age-specific movie collections, and books with electronic components that can read to your child on their journey to literacy.
  • High quality youth programs, many focused on improving early literacy–the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten, PrimeTime Family Reading, Reading with Rover, interactive storytimes for toddlers and preschoolers, and many, many more.
  • Age-specific spaces for children and teenagers where they can play, read, use computers and other technology, and interact with their peers.

What is happening to the new library building at Spring Street?

The Library is seeking private fundraising, and will resume community meetings to seek further input on the building project after the levy lid lift.

The feedback from the capital bond vote, community meetings, and overall community response was clear–there is a strong interest in a new library building, but a $12 million capital bond was too high and lacked sufficient community input. In response, the Library is currently seeking private fundraising, and will continue to seek community input on the building project after the levy lid lift.

The community’s feedback about the original Library capital bond was loud and clear: $12 million was too high. The Library has pivoted its fundraising strategy, and will bring down the bond target significantly. The new goal is to fund a minimum of 60% of the project from donations, grants, and major gifts–approximately $12 million. $2 million has already been awarded by the Washington Department of Commerce. A future library capital bond will seek approximately 40% of the funding–around $8 million or less, depending on private donations and lower cost estimates.

Why don’t you sell the Spring Street property to fund current Library operations?

Selling the Spring Street property for operational expenses would eliminate the future ability to build a new facility in a convenient downtown location. Also, the necessary repayment of the bond used to purchase the property would leave little available for current operations.

It would be more cost effective and a better use of taxpayer money to build a new library that is more cost efficient, as the current library is increasingly difficult and expensive to maintain, and is limited in size in serving community needs. In addition, the Library Board is open to investigating whether part of the new building’s property could be used for affordable housing, which could also help with an additional important community need.

Selling the property presents an unclear return on investment. Even in scenarios in which the Library did sell the Spring Street property, the bond used to purchase the property would have to be repaid. This repayment means that the majority of the money from the sale would not go to current Library operations. The Library would still need to ask for a levy lid lift soon.

With its ideal location and the rising cost of real estate, selling the property would make the path to a new library much more difficult. Current library building maintenance is increasingly expensive, and the cost to purchase a different property would likely be more expensive in future markets. Therefore, keeping the Spring Street property represents the most effective use of taxpayer money.

Long term costs for maintenance of the current facility will only increase over time, and eventually code-related changes will force renovations onto a facility that is no longer appropriately sized for our community. The population has increased by 50% since the last Library renovation in 2004, twenty years ago.

Costs to renovate the existing facility would, per square foot, be higher than would likely be palatable and would wed the Library to the current building limits, as the current site is already not compliant with fire code.

In full, refraining from selling the Spring Street property and receiving operational funding from the levy lid lift allows the Library to continue pursuing a new building in the least expensive circumstances.