KRL needs to be an open book on lid lift request

The board of trustees must decide before the end of this month whether to propose a property tax increase for the Kitsap County Rural Library District.

The board of trustees must decide before the end of this month whether to propose a property tax increase for the Kitsap County Rural Library District.

This “lid lift” ballot measure has been discussed for the past several months with a view to seeking voter approval at the November general election.

If the economy seems to be healing, so that voters would be likely to approve higher taxes to fund the planned Kitsap Regional Library expansion, the trustees would probably go ahead.

Trouble is, uncertainties about the economy and the voters’ mood haven’t gone away.

The tax increase would seem like a small thing in better times.

To get the needed funds, the 2011 levy tax rate needs to be about 13 cents per $1,000 of assessed value higher than it otherwise would be.

Taxpayers already know what their assessed property values will be for taxes due next year, so they can simply multiply the tax rate by the value and learn what increase they would face.

For most property owners in the library district, the increase would be only a few dollars a month — hardly enough to worry about, except for people who are already worrying about paying their taxes.

Now that the first half of this year’s property tax payments have been received by the county treasurer’s office, it is apparent that more people are failing to pay their taxes when due.

Usually, taxing districts can count on receiving at least 99 percent of the levy when payments are due, but so far this year it looks as though only about 97 percent may be paid on time.

The unemployment rate in Kitsap County for May was 7.6 percent according to the Washington Employment Security Department.

This isn’t as bad as the nationwide unemployment rate or even the statewide rate, but it surely is enough to put quite a few people in financial straits — enough so that some of them postpone paying property taxes.

It seems likely that people who aren’t able to pay their current taxes wouldn’t vote for an increase to build new libraries and expand the services provided by KRL.

Anyone worried about joining the ranks of the unemployed wouldn’t be likely to vote for higher taxes either.

The economy has been growing at a slow rate since last year, but this slow rate may not encourage people to be more confident about their own economic prospects in the coming year.

While it may not be shrinking, the economy isn’t growing fast enough to create many new jobs.

Consumer confidence nationwide took an unexpected drop in June, indicating that people are noticing the absence of new jobs.

The situation presents the KRL board of trustees with a tough decision, since they cannot foresee the future any better than the rest of us.

They cannot know at the time of their meeting on July 27 whether the economy will improve enough to reassure voters before ballots are cast in November.

If the trustees go ahead with the ballot proposition this year and the voters reject a lid lift, they risk losing more than the cost of the election.

They would then have suffered rejection of a lid lift twice in 4 years, and sometimes losing such an election reinforces the belief among many voters that the proposal is a bad idea.

It can get harder to win voter approval if opponents believe their position is validated by the majority, and those who might have favored a subsequent proposal in somewhat better times decide to stick with “no.”

Whatever the trustees decide this month, they need to be sure to lay out the details of their proposal on the KRL website prior to the meeting — including the estimated costs for each item.

Then if they go ahead with an election in November, a rejection may sting, but there’s a chance that many voters would be saying “not now,” rather than “forget it.”

It rarely hurts to make it easy for voters to know what they would be paying for, and it usually helps.

Bob Meadows is a Port Orchard resident.