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Spokane voters asked to renew city library tax levy

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(The Center Square) – Spokane voters are being asked to renew an existing property tax levy to continue funding of city library operations for another three years.

Measure No. 1 is listed on ballots mailed to voters within city limits for the Tuesday, Feb. 13, special election. If passed by simple majority vote, the measure would replace a current levy set to expire at the end of 2024.

If approved, property owners will pay 7 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation. That equates to about $28 per year for the owner of a home valued at $400,000. The levy would raise an estimated $2.5 million for library operations in 2025, nearly $2.53 million in 2026, and $2.55 million in 2027.

Voters approved previous levy measures at the same rate in 2013 and 2017. The funds provide about 18% of the city library system’s annual operational budget.

“The library will be able to keep branches open seven days a week … (and) continue its popular policy of providing free meeting and event spaces for the public, which were reserved thousands of times in 2023,” wrote levy committee members Jim Kershner and Jens Larson in a statement of support published in the local voter’s guide.

No statement was received opposing the measure.

Earlier this week, the Spokane City Council voted 6-1 in favor of a resolution supporting the levy proposal.

Councilmember Jonathan Bingle cast the dissenting vote. While supportive of the city’s “beautiful libraries,” Bingle said he has heard from citizens concerned that the facilities have become “de facto” homeless shelters. Bingle said he hoped to see homeless/housing issues addressed separately from library usage.

“We want libraries to serve people as libraries,” he said.

A few citizens expressed similar sentiments during a public comment period.

Councilmember Zack Zappone said libraries are public places and people should not be prevented from gathering there. Zappone said he was “enthusiastic” to support the council’s resolution, saying libraries serve a broad spectrum of citizens, from children to businesses.

During last month’s cold snap, Councilmember Kitty Klitzke said she visited a library branch and saw some people seeking shelter. But Klitzke said she also saw a children’s party and a community gathering underway in the facility, indicative of its multiple uses.

Council President Betsy Wilkerson called libraries “a community hub … with different purposes” while Councilmember Paul Dillon noted the local system served a million visitors annually.

Dillon said it was important to clarify that the ballot proposal was to renew a tax levy that is already in place. If the measure fails, he and Zappone said the library system could face a reduction in weekend hours and cuts to staff, programs and services.

In November 2018, voters approved a $77 million bond to build three new libraries and renovate four existing libraries in Spokane. Construction began in spring of 2020 but continued mostly on schedule during the pandemic. Four libraries opened in 2021: The Hive, Shadle Park Library, Liberty Park Library, and Hillyard Library. The Central Library opened in July 2022 followed by the renovated South Hill and Indian Trail facilities.

They offer free access to books, movies, music, computers and printers, meeting rooms, events and more.

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