Voters check out on library’s levy lift

Kitsap County voters decidedly defeated a property tax increase Tuesday that would have guaranteed the Kitsap Regional Libraries’ operation and growth for the next five years.

“This was a tough one,” said KRL Director Jill Jean immediately after the vote. “We had a lot of good support and we ran a clean, ethical campaign. I am tremendously disappointed.”

Initial reports showed 27,291 (55.21 percent) opposed the measure while 22,684 (44.79 percent) voted in its favor. Updated numbers narrowed the gap to 29,709 against (54.57 percent) to 24,733 in favor. (45.43 percent).

About 50 people gathered in the Downtown Bremerton Library Tuesday evening, making optimistic speeches and congratulating each other for what they expected to be a victorious campaign. Jean called the library “the most democratic of all institutions” and that “we are on the cusp of a great future for KRL.”

But shortly after 8 p.m., KRL Public Relations Manager Audrey Newell announced that the measure was defeated. As the air seemed to disappear from the room several people audibly gasped and someone shouted “you lie!” Newell had to repeat the news several times before attendees believed it was true.

“I’m in shock,” Jean said. “This doesn’t seem right.”

The defeat is characterized as the result of a tax revolt.

“I completely understand how worried everyone is about property taxes,” said KRL Trustee Althea Paulson. “This was a vote against more taxes, and not a vote against the library.”

Added Jean “it is a result of a lot of things. People are tired of income taxes, the high price of gas and even having to put an extra stamp on their ballot.”

“I am disappointed but not surprised,” said Jack Hamilton, who was defeated in his bid for county commissioner last year. “The libraries, like everyone else who lives on levies, didn’t do a good job explaining to taxpayers about how their revenue stream works and why they need to come back to the voters. Voters want to know where their money is spent and why it is needed.”

Since the intention to seek the lift was announced in February, Jean addressed several community groups about the need for the increased funding. The basis of the campaign is that property taxes can increase a maximum of 1 percent per year, a rate that does not keep up with inflation.

Property taxes provide the main source of library funding. The levy lift would have increased the library’s share of property taxes from 30 cents to 48 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. This translates to a total of $48 for a $100,000 home.

Currently, property owners are paying $30 for each $100,000 assessed. With the defeat of the measure the library’s share will fall to $27.

Jean said there is no strategy in place to deal with the defeat. She said the KRL Board would meet to discuss different options at its regular meeting May 24. It has hired a political consultant to help analyze the vote. And it will conduct a breakdown of precincts to determine where the message resonated and where it failed.

“This is the most effective customer service we have ever cinducted,” Newell said of the vote. “We want to learn from it.”

KRL last requested a levy lift in 1979 — the only such request in its 55-year history. This year’s request came two months after voters turned down both a sales tax increase to support Kitsap Transit’s foot ferry and a South Kitsap school bond.

Additionally, the Port of Bremerton was roundly criticized for imposing a property tax hike without adequate public input.In 2005, Kitsap County Voters defeated a levy lift to support law and justice activities.

Before the election Jean admitted that anti-tax sentiment could hurt the levy effort, but feels that community support for the library runs deep enough to assure the needed votes.

In a message to library staff after the vote Jean said “Some of our customers will undoubtedly have concerns about the outcome of this ballot measure. lease let them know that nothing has been decided yet and we will be working with our Library Board and our communities to find the best solution.”

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