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Pierce County looks at most popular library, Gig Harbor, for support on levy

Close to 30,000 residents of the unincorporated portion of the Gig Harbor Peninsula hold active library cards, and many use the Gig Harbor branch of the Pierce County Library System.

“This is a beloved branch,” Pierce County Library spokesperson Mary Getchell said. “This is a community hub. People express that this is the heart of the city.”

The Gig Harbor branch offers families books, movies, resources, a full calendar of programs and a relaxed place to sit and read. One of its unique programs is children’s yoga story time, which isn’t offered at any other location. These programs, Getchell said, make the Gig Harbor library the most popular library in the system.

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Getchell said the Pierce County Library System strives to offer programs across the county and beyond to its readers, but a needed levy lid lift on the ballot in November is important to the system’s ability to continue offering its current slate of programming.

“It’s a maintain-resources levy,” Getchell said. “The only time we had another levy in our 72-year history was 12 years ago.”

The library system passed a levy in 2006, which added services. The 2006 levy was supposed to provide funding for six years, but Getchell said the system has stretched that money for twice that time.

In the last 12 years, the levy rate dropped to $40 per $100,000 taxable home value. The tax rate is estimated to drop to $39 per $100,000 by 2019. If the levy lid lift is passed, it would raise the rate to $50 per $100,000 taxable home value.

Getchell said the library system surveyed card holders on what they value most at the library. If the levy lid lift does not pass in November, the library will consider which programs to cut and resources to do away with. Two or three branches could close.

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“We will have to cut hours everywhere, including Gig Harbor,” Getchell said. “We are not sure what branches would close.”

The cost to maintain the current library programs and resources has risen over the last decade along with demand.

According to information provided by the system, revenue has risen by 3 percent but costs have risen 4-7 percent. The county’s population has gone up by 16 percent but there has been a 63 percent rise in library card holders. Checkouts of library books, music and movies also rose by 33 percent. In 2006, 5.6 million items were checked out of the system. By the end of 2016, 7.4 million items were checked out.

The library has become more popular among young families and millennials in the last decade. The numbers show a rise in computer and internet usage by 96 percent and a rise in program attendance by 79 percent.

The library system started cutting back services in 2009 to make up for its lack in the budget. Those services included:

Eliminated bookmobile service.

Reduced spending on books, movies and other materials.

Deferred facility maintenance and software updates.

Delayed implementing a Facilities Master Plan.

Eliminated downloadable and streaming movies.

Discontinued online Encyclopedia Britannica.

Ended the public’s use of meeting rooms when libraries are closed.

In the next five years the Pierce County Library System will need to replace three roofs, seven heating and cooling systems and replace the floors in 10 libraries along with additional maintenance. Some of the buildings have are 25 years old and require extra maintenance.

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The library bond is not the only proposed tax increase on the ballot. The city of Gig Harbor created its new Transportation Benefit District in hopes of passing a proposed sales-tax increase. The city said the money would be used to build new streets and make up for a lack of infrastructure.

Voters also will be choosing between many local and statewide candidates, making this a large ballot for voters in the Gig Harbor district.

Getchell said she is not worried, and thinks peninsula residents will show up for the library.

“We are not allowed to tell people how to vote, only to educate,” Getchell said. “Pierce County required us to go and find people to write a ‘for’ and ‘against’ statement in the voter pamphlet. No one signed up against the levy. And I think that is great.”

The levy needs a simple majority to pass. Election Day is Nov. 6 and ballots will be sent to voters on Friday, Oct. 19.

Danielle Chastaine: 253-358-4155, @gateway_danie