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Levy failure could threaten Kitsap Regional Library, cut more hours

Branch closures and further cuts in hours could be considered in coming years if the library levy increase on the November ballot doesn’t pass, Kitsap Regional Library officials say.

And if the levy should fail — the district hasn’t had a levy approved by voters since 1979 — officials said they don’t have a plan of action in place for after 2011.

The levy lid lift on the ballot proposes a 13.5 cent property tax increase to 48 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. It would give Kitsap Regional Library an additional $36.5 million during the next 10 years, which will help pay for a new Silverdale branch, building improvements at other locations, new technology and increased operating hours. But if voters aren’t willing to pay the additional money, officials say the libraries will coast on the status quo of deteriorating buildings and cut business hours until 2012, when more drastic cuts will be in play.

“What we’re looking at is an increasingly dire position,” spokesman Jeff Brody said.

Kitsap Regional Library is drafting two 2011 budgets, one with and one without the levy boost, Library Director Jill Jean said. The libraries will receive an additional $250,000 next year as part of its annual 1 percent budget increase —its total operating budget is about $10 million — but all of that money will go to increases in health care costs for employees.

Both Jean and Brody marked 2012 as a point of “crisis” - though they can balance the budget for 2011, escalating costs of health care and library materials are outpacing the 1 percent annual budget increase and more dramatic measures would be considered for 2012 and beyond.

“We’re going to fall farther and farther behind the demands of our services,” Brody said.

Jean said the Kitsap Regional Library Board of Trustees has not yet looked at budget-cutting options should the levy fail. She said there would be no new building projects, hour extensions or boost to the book budget, but it’s too soon to look at what will be up for cuts.

“It’s going to be tough all the way around,” Jean said.

Brody, however, speculated reduced hours, potential pay cuts and perhaps branch closures. He said the Kingston branch, which is in the worst condition of all the system’s libraries, might be the first to go should branches be closed, and those jobs could be shuffled elsewhere in the system.

“There’s a lot of things that would have to be on the table for 2012,” he said.

These cuts would come just a few years after the libraries’ 2007 levy defeat at the polls, after which Kitsap Regional Library reduced spending by 15 percent. Those reductions included an 11 percent cutback in hours, a 2009 pay freeze for all employees and the elimination and consolidation of administrative and public relations positions.

Ruth Bond, branch manager of the Sylvan Way library and interim branch manager of the downtown Bremerton location, said that because Bremerton is the only city in the county to have two libraries, she fears one of them would be the first to shut down should branches be closed.

The downtown Bremer-ton library, despite reduced hours and a lack of Sunday service, has seen a 30 percent increase of attendance so far this year compared to last year — a total of 10,000 additional visitors from January to August compared to the same time period in 2009. Jean attributes that increase to the down economy, which has brought job-seekers and those with less disposable income to the library to use the Internet and get free books and movies.

But Bond said the building, owned by the City of Bremerton, needs updating. The plumbing needs to be replaced, for example — the staff won’t drink out of the taps — and the lack of air conditioning has caused staff to close the library when the building was more than 80 degrees inside during hot summer days.

The Sylvan Way library, which was built with money from the last approved levy increase in 1979, also needs maintenance and additional computers, Bond said.

Patrons complain at the Bremerton libraries about longer waits at computers, slow Internet connection and not getting requested books on time, she added.

“After awhile you become not effective,” Bond said.

Silverdale would miss out on a new building that would save the branch from its cramped quarters on Carlton Street. Kitsap Regional Library hopes to funnel $7.95 million of new levy money to a new building that could be located next to the YMCA under construction on Randall Way. The new building would be 17,500 square feet, compared to the current 6,000-square-foot branch.

“We’re really packed. It’s just really crowded in here,” Silverdale Interim Branch Manager Donna Nelson said, adding that she hears daily complaints about the lack of parking.

Should the levy proposal fail this year, Kitsap Regional Library may try to pass it again in 2011, Brody said. The libraries have not planned for failure.

“I don’t know if anybody is really prepared for that,” he said. “We have not looked at, ‘What do we do next?’ What we’ve tried to look at is how to pass the levy.”

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