Library levy hike heads to victory in Clallam County with 58 percent of the vote so far

PORT ANGELES — Library users across Clallam County may see longer library hours and more books, CDs and DVDs next year as a proposed property tax increase for the North Olympic Library System headed for victory in the primary election.

The levy lid lift received 9,335 votes in favor, or 58.19 percent of ballots counted by the end of Tuesday, while 6,707, or 41.81 percent, came in against it in the first count of votes in the all-mail election.

It needs 50 percent plus one vote to prevail.

The measure would hike Clallam County property owners’ bills from the current 33 cents per $1,000 in assessed valuation to 50 cents per $1,000.

More ballots, however, will be counted in this primary election.

The Clallam County Auditor’s Office had counted 16,457 ballots by Tuesday evening, or 35.9 percent of the 45,796 ballots mailed out to registered voters.

Auditor Patty Rosand said another 3,690 ballots came in Tuesday, and have yet to be added into the count.

The number of ballots returned so far represents a 43.98 percent turnout.

Rosand believes her prediction of a 50 percent voter turnout will come true by the next ballot count this Friday.

When told of the library levy’s lead Tuesday night, library system director Paula Barnes said, “That’s awesome.”

The levy increase, if it passes, means an projected $1.316 million in additional revenue in 2011.

Barnes said she had talked with “a number of people who said they thought it was going to pass, but others were quite emphatic about voting against it.”

She added that she’s “acutely aware” that many people are still suffering in the slumped economy, and don’t feel a tax increase is appropriate now.

“I am so grateful” for the supporters of the levy lid lift, Barnes said.

She hopes to begin buying more books and extending operating hours in 2011 at the system’s main library in Port Angeles and the branches in Sequim, Clallam Bay and Forks.

Kaj Ahlburg, an outspoken opponent of the tax hike, complimented the levy lid lift’s supporters for a well-organized campaign, but said he still believes the increase is too large.

“A lot of people’s incomes are frozen,” he added.

The North Olympic Library System receives most of its revenue from the local junior taxing district, and nothing from county or municipal governments.

And because of the 1 percent per year cap on property-tax budget increases, Clallam’s libraries have suffered, Barnes has said, from an inadequate income stream. Revenues are below an inflation rate that has averaged 2.8 percent for the past eight years.

Barnes has had to institute many cuts in the library budget: in staff positions and operating hours, in upkeep of library buildings and in the acquisition of the new books and other materials patrons can check out.

The public libraries have already scheduled two weeklong closures this year, trimmed library materials by 10 percent and left several staff positions unfilled.

Without the boost in revenue from the property-tax levy, more serious cuts in service would have been in the offing, Barnes has said.

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Features Editor Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3550 or at diane.urbani@peninsuladailynews.com.

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