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Enumclaw Library vote draws community debate | Special Election

Enumclaw  voters will decide April 17 whether to allow the King County Library System to annex the city library.  - Dennis Box, Courier-Herald
Enumclaw voters will decide April 17 whether to allow the King County Library System to annex the city library.
— image credit: Dennis Box, Courier-Herald

Enumclaw is in the midst of one of its more controversial elections concerning the fate of the city’s public library.

Proposition No. 1 on the April 17 mail-in ballot asks whether residents of Enumclaw should allow the King County Library System to annex the city library.

The library  has been a cornerstone of the community for more than 90 years. It was founded in 1922.

One of the central questions is whether the City Council is able to, or willing to, fund the library. The other issue is if the annexation measure fails, will the council find a way to fund the library or close the doors.

Annexation would mean KCLS would take over operation of the library on June 1. KCLS is a taxing district separate from King County government that operates libraries throughout King County. The nearest KCLS branches are the Black Diamond, Muckleshoot, Maple Valley and Covington libraries.

According to a “frequently asked questions” document on the city’s website, Enumclaw and Seattle are the only two cities in the county that are not part of KCLS, which was founded in 1942.

The Enumclaw City Council approved a resolution at its March 12 meeting stating the city’s property tax levy rate would not be reduced if the library annexation vote is approved in April.

Resolution 1449 passed 6-0. Councilman Darrel Dickson was not present.  The resolution stated “the City Council  does not intend to reduce the City’s property tax levy rate” should the annexation measure be approved by voters.

Councilman Sean Krebs requested an amendment cutting the statement that said the city could no longer provide sufficient funds for the municipal library.

Krebs said it is the choice of the City Council to not fund the library, while supporting other city services including parks and police.

The motion for the amendment passed unanimously.

Charlie Sansone, a former member of the library advisory board and retired social studies teacher from New York, opposes the annexation.

One of Sansone’s principal concerns is a belief the children’s section of the Enumclaw library will be reduced.

“To me that is a real loss,” Sansone said. “It can’t be measured in dollars and cents.”

Sansone said the city began cutting funds to the library in 2009, which he believes is one of the reasons it is more difficult for the Enumclaw library to compete with KCLS.

“I said what you have done to us is like those who complain about welfare,” Sansone said. “Cut their welfare and then hold the parents responsible for malnourishment of their children. I don’t see any human factor in that.”

On the side of allowing annexation is former City Council member and current library board member Rich Elfers.

“The reality is the City Council knows the city budget is drying up,” Elfers said. “The harsh reality is the city can no longer fund the library. I know at least three council members (who have) said they will vote to close the library.”

Elfers said in the current economy the council has to ask “what are the core services, the police are for example. You have to decide where to spend money.”

The library board sent a letter to the City Council July 13, 2011 stating members supported local control of the library with additional hours of operation including staying open six days a week. The library is currently open 36 hours a week and is closed on Friday and Sunday.

To fund the library the board requested a city levy of 40 cents per $1,000 of property value, which would produce $421,000, plus $260,000 from the city budget.

According to the FAQ the KCLS will levy 50 cents per $1,000 for operation of the library.

Sansone said he does not believe the city considered the board proposals or listened to the ideas and questions from the 2011 board. He recently resigned from the board.

“The City Council did not visit (King County) libraries,” Sansone said. “How many times have they went into KCLS libraries? Look at the Black Diamond (library) adult section compared to our library.”

Elfers, who was on the City Council in 2011, said the council did consider the letter from the board in 2011, but decided it was not a plausible plan.

“We just said no,” Elfers said.

According to Elfers, the proposal from the 2011 board would cost more than the KCLS annexation. With the 40 cent levy and the $260,000 from the city budget, Elfers estimated it would equal about a 65 cent levy verses 50 cents per $1,000 for KCLS.

“The reason the City Council rejected it, is KCLS is a better deal,” Elfers said. “Our goal is to serve the people of Enumclaw. We can’t compete with KCLS. We will get more money out of our tax dollars.”

According to the city’s FAQ, if the proposition fails the reciprocal borrowing agreement will end and Enumclaw residents will not be able to obtain a KCLS library card.

Sansone said he initially supported the annexation, but changed his mind after visiting King County libraries around the region.

“We might not be classed as a top library,” Sansone said. “I think that is bad.”

Sansone said he is concerned about what books and collections may be removed from Enumclaw.

“I favored holding up and making a thorough study,” Sansone said. “Set up a study group then if we decide (to annex) we will do it. I think a good high-school senior could have performed a study with guidance.”

Another option Sansone thought should be considered to pay for the library is a membership fee for those who use the resource.

The city traditionally funded the library operation from its general fund; for 2012, however, money is coming from a fund stemming from property sales and leases. According to the FAQ, the money allotted to the library has been reduced due to the Great Recession.

In 2009 the city budgeted $631,000 for the library. In 2012 the amount fell to $350,000, which resulted in fewer hours of operation and problems with purchasing books and supplies.

 

Proposition No. 1

Mail-in ballots must be post marked by April 17.

  • Proposition No. 1: “Should the City of Enumclaw be annexed to and be a part of the King County Rural Library District, doing business as the King County Library System?”
  • Explanatory statement: “If approved by a simple majority of Enumclaw voters, this measure would annex City of Enumclaw residents to the King County Library System (KCLS) effective June 1, 2012. The City of Enumclaw would no longer operate the Enumclaw library. KCLS would provide library services at the Enumclaw library to the residents of the City of Enumclaw including increased hours, more public computers and different library programs. Annexation would mean that City of Enumclaw residents would pay for library services through property taxes levied by KCLS rather than by the use of the City’s general fund money. KCLS is a separate local government, and not part of King County government, with the sole purpose of providing library services. KCLS is governed by a Board of Trustees. The City of Enumclaw will retain the authority to have its own library board, which will serve in an advisory capacity to the King County Library System and it will retain control of the library endowment funds.”

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