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City of Seattle

Proposition No. 1
Property Tax Levy Renewal for The Seattle Public Library

The City of Seattle’s Proposition 1 concerns renewing a levy to maintain and improve core Library services.

If approved, this proposition would sustain investments and increase spending for Library operating hours, materials, technology, children’s programming, and building maintenance, including earthquake retrofits, as provided in Ordinance 125809. Consistent with chapter 84.55 RCW, it would increase regular property taxes for seven years. The 2020 tax increase, up to $0.122/$1,000 of assessed value, would be used to compute limitations for subsequent levies, with up to 1% annual increases. Seniors, veterans, and others who qualify under RCW 84.36.381 would be exempt.

Should this Levy be approved?



Seattle Proposition 1 proposes a property tax levy that would raise approximately $219,100,000 over seven years (2020-2026) to renew and enhance community investments in Library operating hours, materials, technology, building maintenance, and programming for children. It would replace an expiring levy that raised $122,630,099 over seven years. The 2020 tax increase would not exceed $0.122 per thousand dollars of assessed value. An owner of a Seattle home with a median assessed value of $722,000 would pay $84 in taxes in 2020 to support the levy. Under RCW 84.36.381, qualifying seniors and others can receive an exemption that allows a reduction in overall property taxes.

Taxes raised would provide funding in six categories of Library Services. The following program elements are illustrative examples:

1. Hours and Access, which would include: supporting Library operating hours in neighborhood branches and the Central Library; providing access to Library programs and services in the community; and outreach and engagement services.

2. Collections, which would include: increasing the variety, depth, delivery, and availability of materials, with new titles and additional copies in physical and digital formats, including e-books, e-audiobooks, streaming services and others; continuing to curate and digitize the local history collection; and providing fine-free access to materials.

3. Technology, which would include: upgrading the Library’s business applications; updating high speed internet and Wi-Fi systems; and supporting digital equity efforts, such as mobile hotspots and digital literacy classes.

4. Maintenance, which would include: routine, preventive, and major maintenance for Library buildings, including earthquake retrofits for the Columbia, Green Lake, and University branches.

5. Children’s Programming, which would include: additional support for Library early learning programs for children ages 0 through 5.

6. Administration, which would include: implementation and accountability measures for the Library Levy, with regular reporting to the public on outcomes.

The levy funds will be spent in accordance with the annual City budget process for each year of the levy. The Chief Librarian and Library Board will submit to the Mayor and City Council an annual Levy expenditure plan that will support and improve the Library services identified in the categories above. Each year, the Library Board will adopt an annual operations plan and capital budget.

Proposition 1 would authorize the collection of more property taxes than would otherwise be allowed by the limits imposed under the RCW chapter 84.55. State law generally limits the increase in property taxes to 1% above the highest amount that the City could have received in the prior year. Proposition 1 would allow the City to exceed this limit for taxes collected in 2020. Taxes for the remaining six years of the levy would be based on the amount collected in 2020 but could not increase more than 1% per year without a further vote of the people. The City’s total regular property-tax rate would not exceed the state law rate limit of $3.60 per $1,000 of assessed value. Taxes levied in 2026 for collection in 2027, and later tax levies, would be calculated as if Proposition 1 had not been passed.

Let’s Renew our Commitment to Seattle’s Libraries!


In our rapidly-changing Seattle, our public library system is at the heart of a healthy, equitable, and livable city. Libraries give all people, regardless of background or income, the opportunity to learn and excel through educational resources and classes.


In addition to books, materials, and online resources for ALL Seattle residents, our libraries offer essential programs and support for Seattle’s kids, families, and most vulnerable residents—from after-school homework help to online access to job listings and housing assistance. These important programs, along with the people and places that make our libraries safe and welcoming, are all are supported by our library levy.  


Critical Investments We Cannot Afford to Lose


Seattle voters understand the importance of our libraries and stepped up during the last recession to restore hours and services. Now, in the face of growth and change, we must renew these investments. By passing this levy, we can maintain and even increase neighborhood branch hours, staffing, and service levels. 


The Library Levy represents 25% of our public library budget. If this levy fails it will mean reduced library hours, fewer literacy classes and homework assistance programs, as well as reduced access to materials, technology, and digital literacy classes. If the levy is not renewed, it also means deferred maintenance on aging and seismically-unstable buildings.


Keeping Up with Changing Technology and Use


With your vote, this replacement levy will continue maintaining and upgrading computers, technology, and internet access at libraries in neighborhoods across the city. This levy will make sure we also continue modernizing, growing, and enhancing the library’s popular physical and digital book and media collections.


Critically, this levy also provides nearly 100% of major maintenance costs and will help ensure library buildings and facilities are well-maintained and receive needed accessibility and earthquake improvements.


Please Renew the Seattle Library Levy!


This levy is not a new tax; it replaces an expiring levy. For $3.00 more per month for the average homeowner, we can protect the critical investments we’ve made over the years and renew our commitment to a great neighborhood library system.


Endorsed by: Seattle Library Foundation, Friends of the Seattle Library, Mayor Jenny Durkan and Councilmembers, 37th and 46th District Democrats, and many more!



A core and treasured public service, our public libraries should be fully funded from taxes already available to the Mayor and City Council.  But they have withheld this funding, creating an artificial emergency to scare voters into a property tax increase of $219,100,000 that will make Seattle less affordable for renters, homeowners, and businesses.  


Ballot measures should be used for infrequent capital projects or unavoidable emergencies.  Ongoing operations should be funded from the regular budget, the City’s statement of its true priorities.  This levy proposal is temporary and moves our Library away from the stable funding it had for a century.


And it’s the least accountable levy in memory.  The Mayor and City Council offer nothing to restore libraries’ regular funding—not to make up for inflation, not from the $5 million/year they took away when the previous levy passed, not to make up for the millions more lost by ending overdue book fines if this levy is passed.


And there is no citizen oversight committee to ensure fiscal responsibility and protect neighborhood branch funding from diversion to the downtown library.  A 1998 library construction measure that had a strong citizen oversight committee received overwhelming voter support.  But the lesson was forgotten. 


Voting NO on this levy will force officials to financially empower the Library.  Otherwise they will continue to raid its regular funds, for diversion to purposes with less voter appeal. 


Property taxes are at historic highs, with billions in other levies on the ballot soon.  Can you afford it? 


To save the Library, please join us in insisting on real financial security, not holding it hostage to force higher property taxes. 


Stop the Mayor and City Council from playing games with a cherished institution.  Reject this temporary levy.  Let’s work together to ensure full Library funding in the regular budget, and keep Seattle affordable. 


Bruce Chapman (formerly Seattle City Council member and Washington Secretary of State)

Lloyd Hara (formerly King County Auditor and elected positions of Seattle Treasurer and King County Assessor)

Chris Leman (formerly University of Washington faculty member; family of lifetime library users)


Background:  Positions listed for identification purposes only.

In the last recession Seattle voters protected our libraries from unsustainable cuts. Now, in the face of incredible growth—and demand for library services—we must continue investing in libraries that are open and accessible to all.

When Washington voters approved Tim Eyman’s 1% annual cap on important City and County taxes, it required Seattle to ask for levies to keep pace with inflation, cost of living increases, population growth and one-time investments. That is why the City’s budget alone cannot pay for a library system that provides needed after school programs, early learning, meeting spaces, and a growing print and online catalog. It’s also why failure of this modest levy will force unacceptable cuts in our libraries.

This levy protects hours and staffing—but also makes key investments in seismic upgrades, computer and technology improvements, and expands “virtual library” services and materials available to all people.

Please Vote Yes!

Submitted by: Sue Donaldson, Ross Baker, Rona Zevin,

No to this tax increase.   Yes to restoring regular funds.


To force higher taxes despite record revenues, the Mayor and City Council are withholding Library funding.  Join us in rejecting the scare tactics.   Through most of the library’s history, it was fully funded without levies. 


Seattle should return its libraries to regular funding.  This temporary levy moves them further from financial stability.  And it frees the politicians to divert the libraries’ regular funds to other, less popular uses.


There is no accountability in this proposal.  The Library Board has failed to provide independent oversight of the current levy.  Its committees on budget, facilities, and operations no longer even meet.  


Stop the game-playing.  Stand up against this manufactured crisis.   Your Library is too important not to fund it fully from the taxes already charged.  To vote yes is to increase property taxes unaffordably on homes and businesses.  Therefore, vote NO.

Submitted by: Bruce Chapman, Lloyd Hara, Chris Leman,

Simple majority (RCW 84.55.050)

For questions about this measure, contact: Polly Grow, Seattle Ethics and Elections, 206-615-1248,

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