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Wednesday, August 9, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Woodway

No library cards?! Families' petition spurs Sept. 19 vote

Times Snohomish County Bureau

One gray February morning in 2003, a month after a move into a new house, Tom Blahous revived a family tradition.

"Everybody gets two books," he reminded his three young sons when they reached the Edmonds Library.

They knew the drill. When they'd lived in Seattle, walks to their local library near Green Lake had been a weekly routine. So an hour later, they headed to the counter, books in hand, and waited while Blahous applied for a library card.

Blahous immediately sensed something was wrong when the librarian looked at his paperwork.

"She said, 'I'm sorry, sir. Woodway has no library privileges,' " he recalled, still amazed.

He later would learn that wealthy Woodway is the only community in Snohomish and Island counties that lacks library service.

Everett has its own library system, while Sno-Isle Libraries serves all other cities, towns and unincorporated areas.

The oldest Blahous boy, Jack, then 5 years old, began to cry when he realized he couldn't take home the books he had chosen.

"I left the books on the counter, picked up the boys — Jack was bawling — and went back out to the car," said Blahous, an airline pilot.

"I was dumbfounded. I thought the library was a part of the package that serves the community. I didn't know you could choose services la carte and opt out of that one."

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Woodway residents most recently opted out in 1998, when 62 percent of voters said, no, they didn't want to pay property taxes to Sno-Isle and be annexed by the district.

Next month, Woodway voters will get another chance. A half-dozen families, including Blahous and his wife, Robin, organized a petition drive that in June persuaded the Woodway Town Council to place the annexation question on the Sept. 19 ballot.

If the proposal is approved, Woodway residents would be taxed 42.3 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. That would cost about $244 for a $577,000 home, which in 2000 was the median value for Woodway housing. In 2000, the small town had 53 homes valued at more than $1 million; residents say values have shot up significantly since then.

If Woodway, population 1,260, belonged to the Sno-Isle district this year, it would have generated about $188,000 in library taxes, Sno-Isle has estimated. The district this year will collect about $25.6 million in property taxes across its two-county service area.

Longtime resident Ross Wood, a former mayor and town councilman, is among the proposal's foes. He predicts it will fail again despite a recent influx of younger families with children.

"It's unjustified, the way they collect the taxes," he said. "The people of Woodway are going to be paying two or maybe three times as much to belong to the library as the people in Mukilteo or Edmonds or Mountlake Terrace because the houses are worth more."

The median home value in Mountlake Terrace in 2000 was $171,000, which would have brought annual library taxes of $72.

Other opponents say they don't need library services. They have Internet access, and they simply buy the books they want.

Wood's wife, former state Sen. Jeannette Wood, takes the other side.

"I just get embarrassed that Woodway doesn't belong," she said.

The Karr family had a similar husband-wife split on the issue — at first.

Annika Karr is a leader of the annexation movement. Her husband was skeptical.

"I was originally pretty set against it because of the way it's pegged to property without a cap," said Brad Karr, an anesthesiologist. "People with a $3 million home pay $1,200 a year."

But then he discussed the issue with local resident Mary Lou Block, who had worked on the 1998 annexation attempt.

"She asked, 'What else do you spend your money on?' " he recalled. He spent a couple days thinking about that.

"It became totally clear. I just got a new pair of ski boots that cost about $500, exactly what we'd have to pay," he said, and the Karrs' cable-TV bills total $960 a year. "It's just a matter of priorities in where you spend your money. You should value your community library over all that stuff."

King County's wealthier communities have struggled with the issue, too. The Medina City Council in June voted against creating a ballot measure asking residents to withdraw from the King County Library System. The owner of a median-price home in Medina pays $530 a year for library service. In King County, only well-to-do Hunts Point and Yarrow Point go without library privileges.

Sno-Isle Libraries was created in 1945 to serve unincorporated Snohomish County residents, who paid a property tax for services. Island County residents voted to join in 1962. Over the years, many cities and towns began contracting with the district for library service, paying the district out of their budgets.

Then in 1980, the Association of Washington Cities persuaded the state Legislature to pass a bill that allowed communities to become part of library districts and instead pay for services through property taxes. Since then, 13 cities and towns have joined Sno-Isle.

Lynnwood still pays Sno-Isle for contract services, currently at a cost of $1.1 million per year. On Sept. 19, residents will vote on a proposal to save those city funds by joining the district.

Woodway contracted for library service until 1978, said district spokeswoman Mary Kelly.

Most library patrons from Woodway would use the Sno-Isle branch in downtown Edmonds, which is within a mile of the town limits.

The Sno-Isle district, which operates 20 libraries, in the past sold nonresident library cards for $87 a year. That practice was discontinued in 2001.

Other than Woodway, the last town within the two-county area to lack library privileges was Gold Bar, Kelly said. Gold Bar was annexed in 1997.

Seattle Times researcher David Turim and Seattle Times staff reporter Yamiche Alcindor contributed to this report.

Diane Brooks: 425-745-7802 or dbrooks@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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