Local Election

Point Roberts being asked to raise property taxes for new, larger library

Rendering of the proposed new Point Roberts Library.
Rendering of the proposed new Point Roberts Library. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

After nearly five years of fundraising that brought in about $540,000, supporters of a new and larger library for this small community are asking its voters for another $300,000 to build the project.

The property tax levy goes before voters Nov. 8. It requires 60 percent approval from those voting to pass.

Here’s what Point Roberts voters need to know about the ballot measure.

Why does Point Roberts need a new library?

The plan is to renovate the old Julius Fire Hall and turn it into a new 2,500-square-foot library.

The existing library is squeezed into a 900-square-foot space in the Point Roberts Community Center, 1487 Gulf Road. The fire hall is next door. Its renovation would nearly triple the space for the library, which is part of the Whatcom County Library System.

For now, there is enough room for one table and four chairs in the existing library. There is only a small area for teens. The library also needs more space for the children’s section.

During summer, when the number of people in Point Roberts swells with visitors that include those who make their homes there during those months, the parking lot often is full with people who can’t find space inside the library but are there to use its Wi-Fi for internet access.

What will it cost me, if approved?

About 51 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.

The owner of a $200,000 Point Roberts house would pay about $102 – just once, since this is a one-time levy, to raise $300,000, which would include a contingency fund for unexpected expenses.

Who is behind this effort?

Different groups are responsible for different parts.

Friends of the Point Roberts Library were behind the fundraising and the push for a new and larger building.

The community center that houses the existing library is owned and managed by Point Roberts Park and Recreation District No. 1. The district bought the fire hall next to the community center in March 2010 for about $98,000.

The recreation district also agreed to put the levy before voters.

As it does now, the Whatcom County Library System will provide staff, services and furnishings for the new library branch.

“They’re ready to go on this as soon as we get the building done,” said Judy Ross, president of Friends of the Points Roberts Library.

Why did the cost to renovate the fire hall increase so much?

There are a number of reasons, even though the Friends hit their fundraising goal.

Construction and labor costs have increased in the past five years. With construction activity up in Bellingham and Seattle, more will have to be spent to be competitive enough to get construction workers up to Point Roberts, Ross said.

Other additional expenses included having to replace the septic tank and maybe having to put in additional parking. Plus, a radar machine that scanned the concrete foundation found problems – including that half the foundation doesn’t have rebar in it – that will have to be fixed, further driving up the cost.

Ross said people have asked whether a smaller library could be built, but she said people who already donated money did so expecting the larger space. Reducing its size by half or one-third would be “bad faith,” she said.

“I don’t see any easy alternatives,” Ross said.

Meanwhile, arguments against the levy proposal – found in the voters’ guide – included that the money raised so far should go toward a mutli-use building in another location, at Baker Field, which would include space for the library.

There also was concern that the Point Roberts park district could have problems when it goes back to voters in 2017 to re-up its own levy for maintenance and operations because of taxation fatigue.

The total amount of votes needed for the measure to pass was corrected Oct. 18, 2016.

Kie Relyea: 360-715-2234, @kierelyea