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Library loss lamented

Support was strongest on the island, but poor in Bremerton.

Failure of the library levy earlier this month was caused by concern over taxes rather than a rejection of library services, Kitsap Regional Libraries board members said Thursday.

The levy “lid lift” was the only county-wide item on the May 15 ballot. It earned less than 43 percent support.

KRL Director Jill Jean, a Bainbridge Island resident, said that while the percentage of the defeat was 9 percent, the actual margin of votes – 4,818, out of more than 55,000 cast – was not insurmountable should the levy go back to voters.

“It’s important that we don’t take these results personally,” Jean said. “This is not a reflection of the jobs we do and the service to the community.

“We knew the anti-tax sentiment was there,” she said, “although the fact that more voters didn’t turn out is rather extraordinary.”

The levy would have added about $18 per $100,000 valuation to local property tax bills, and boosted KRL tax revenues from $8.8 million in 2007 to $15.4 million next year.

Backers said Thursday that if they go back to the voters, KRL would need more focused proposal that asks for less the failed measure.

“A lot of the local curmudgeons didn’t really look at the amount of the increase, but saw the proposal as a 50 percent increase in what you are getting today,” said Ray Pardo, a citizen supporter who attended the meeting in Manchester.

Helping with the vote analysis was Leigh Pate, a Seattle public affairs analyst hired to plan strategy and interpret voting trends.

Pate presented a color-coded map that showed where the levy fared best.

Bainbridge Island showed the strongest support, while the greatest opposition percentage-wise roughly corresponded with Port of Bremerton boundaries.

The election was held two weeks after property tax statements that reflected a significant port-mandated tax increase for residents in that area.

KRL spokesperson Audrey Newell said that Pate’s input – at a cost of about $3,000 before and after the election – was necessary to understand the messages behind the vote.

“People took the time to vote,” she said. “There is no more important poll than the actual vote, and we need to understand the motivation behind this decision.”

Future polling is one strategy that KRL may use.

“If you do a poll it should have a forward focus,” Pate said. “You can spend a lot of time trying to find out why people voted the way they did, but it makes more sense to try to find out what you should do next.”

Officials said before the election that the countywide library system faces a $2.1 million shortfall in 2008.

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