Deal between Walla Walla Library and County Rural Library District OK'd

But not without a measure of controversy over perceived inequities in the $188,000 deal.

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WALLA WALLA -- For the second consecutive year, the Rural Library District has drastically reduced the amount it will pay to Walla Walla Library for services rendered to county residents who live in Fire Districts Four and Eight.

The fairness of the new contract between the Walla Walla Library and the County Rural Library District came into question at Wednesday's City Council meeting.

That meeting ended with Council members approving a 2010 contract between the two library agencies by a 4-3 vote. Fred Mitchell, Dominick Elia, Conrado Cavasos and Mayor Barbara Clark voted for the new contract, while Shane Laib, Jerry Cummins and Jim Barrow voted against it.

In 2009, a reimbursement dispute between the two agencies resulted in the Rural Library District reducing its reimbursement from $365,000 in the previous year to $235,000. This year the reimbursement will drop to $188,000.

Prior to the vote, Cummins asked Walla Walla Library Director Martha Van Pelt if she felt people residing outside city boundaries would be paying the same rate as those who live within the city?

Then he directly asked Van Pelt, "Is this negotiated rate equitable?" Van Pelt answered, "No."

But Walla Walla Rural Library District Executive Director Punkey Adams feels the rate is fair because the $188,000 is based on households in Districts Four and Eight that utilize the Walla Walla Library.

"We have tried to come up with a funding formula that makes sense for both parties. We were looking at the nonresidence (fee) of $135, which is a nonresidence fee that usually covers the entire family," Adams said today.

Two major contentions focus on whether the reimbursement should be based per household or per individuals in the household, and if the reimbursements should include other county residents who hold Walla Walla Library Cards.

Van Pelt noted the Walla Walla Library gets a number of visitors from Burbank, Prescott and other outlying areas, especially on weekends when families come to town to buy groceries and for other business. She added that the reimbursement should be based on the total number of cards held, as well as the average number of children per cardholder.

"When a family gets a card ... there are four people using the card. Mom is coming in. Dad is coming in. And they are taking out a whole stack of picture books," Van Pelt said.

But Adams pointed out if there were no contract, the Rural Library District would not pay for Walla Walla Library cards for people living in Burbank, Prescott or other outlying areas, but only for county residents living in Fire Districts Four and Eight (the area surrounding Walla Walla).

Adams said that if the district would only pay per household, not per cardholder. Based on this, she estimated that with no contract, the amount the rural library district would pay to Walla Walla Library would be about $188,000.

"We are trying to pay our fair share, and coming up with a funding formula that is equitable is very, very difficult," Adams said.

Had the city rejected the contract, the loss of $188,000 would most likely have led to reducing operating days to five per week and a 30 percent drop in new martial purchases, Van Pelt told the Council.

Clark said the contract "is not really a fair contract" but added, "I think having $189,000 is better than not having it. At the same time, there is an indication that the Rural Library District may have other plans that possibly don't include the city of Walla Walla."

Adams confirmed that the district is currently looking at opening a local Rural Library District branch. Had the contract been rejected Wednesday, the district would have moved quicker to establish the new branch.

"We are planning to open a branch in the Walla Walla area in the next 12 months. We probably would have revved that up and got that open. And we probably would have provided funds to those people who use the Walla Walla Library to buy cards," she said.

Adams noted that there are a number of services the district provides to Walla Walla residents with no reimbursement. Though the numbers are far less than Fire Districts Four and Eight county residents with Walla Walla Library cards, there are a small number of Walla Walla residents who visit Rural Library District branches, especially Spanish speakers who go to the Vista Hermosa branch.

Adams noted that Walla Walla resident cardholders borrow three times more books through the WalNet book loan program than do country residents borrowing from Walla Walla Library. She added that starting next month, the Rural Library District will add an online book downloading service, which will be free to Walla Walla resident cardholders.

"What we want people to recognize is that the Walla Walla Public Library is not the only public library service that these people can get," she said.

The city and Rural Library District have had reimbursement contracts since 1974.

Alfred Diaz can be reached at alfreddiaz@wwub.com or 526-8325.

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