News

Libraries face cutbacks after bond failure

By JODY ALLARD

Staff writer

Voters favored a $158 million King County Library System capital improvements bond Tuesday, but failed to meet the supermajority required for the measure to pass.

Unofficial returns indicated that 51.6 percent of voters were in favor of the library bond, while 48.4 percent were opposed.

By Thursday afternoon, 100 percent of votes cast at polls and 45 percent of absentee ballots had been counted.

Library officials admitted there is little chance of gaining the necessary 60 percent approval.

“There are still a pretty significant number of absentee ballots out,” said Julie Wallace, spokeswoman for the library system. “But the probability is that it’s not going to pass, given where it exists right now.”

There are a few unpleasant certainties facing library officials. The planned upgrades, expansions and replacements of 29 of the system’s libraries -- including an expansion of the Federal Way branch on First Way South and a replacement of the South 320th Street branch -- simply won’t happen.

“There is just not the funding to do that,” said Wallace.

Although the proposed bond was slated for capital improvements, its failure is expected to cause a ripple effect that will be felt throughout the system. Lacking the funds to replace outdated facilities, the high cost of maintaining aging buildings will put a pinch on the system’s ability to provide other services, officials said.

It’s too early to know what cuts, if any, will be made to the 42 community library branches, but officials say there will be an impact.

“This measure was to fund the capital needs of the libraries over the next 10 years,” said Wallace. “Now, without those funds we are obviously going to have to cut into the operational expenses to keep up with the maintenance and ongoing upkeep of the libraries.”

Still, the need to expand and upgrade the system’s facilities won’t go away, and Wallace said the bond may be retried in the future. But that decision, which must be made by the library board of trustees, won’t be made immediately.

“The communities that we serve really will have to give their feedback to the trustees when they feel the time may be right to revisit this issue,” said Wallace.

A trip to the South 320th Street branch Thursday elicited reactions from patrons that ranged from ignorance of the bond measure to staunch support. The majority of those who expressed support, however, admitted that they had not voted.

Poor voter turnout is nothing new for library officials. The primary challenge involved in any bond measure is getting information out to voters -- and encouraging the library’s patrons, who make up 75 percent of their communities, to vote.

State Public Disclosure Commission rules preclude the library from producing campaign materials other than one factual brochure. The rest of the system’s efforts rely primarily on media coverage and community support.

Wallace said Proposition 1 was mentioned by the media 56 times, but she declined to comment on the public’s level of awareness of the bond.

Jessica Turner, a Federal Way resident who said she uses the South 320th Street branch on a weekly basis, said she was unaware of the bond measure.

“I wish I had known it was on the ballot,” she said.

Although only 20 percent of voters turned out to vote, officials say they are encouraged by an approval rate in excess of 50 percent.

“Anything over 50 percent is a mandate that the public supports your efforts,” said Wallace. “We did not reach 60 percent, but it still says to us that what we proposed to the public is still fairly strong.”

Staff writer Jody Allard: 925-5565 and jallard@fedwaymirror.com

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