Walla Walla Library dispute may cut hours, services

If a contract isn't worked out, county residents may be refused service at the Walla Walla Library.

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WALLA WALLA - As city officials near finalizing the 20011-2012 biennial budget, a major budget cut still looms over the Walla Walla Library, which could end up lowering operating hours from the current 47 hours per week to as little as 31, according to city officials.

While other city departments funded by the general fund are facing anywhere from four to 10 percent cuts, the library is looking at losing about $250,000 of its roughly $1 million annual budget. But the 25 percent cut is due mostly to a financial reimbursement dispute between the city and Country Rural Library District.

Last year, the County Rural Library District paid $188,000 to the city of Walla Walla for providing library cards and services to residents of the unincorporated areas immediately surrounding the city of Walla Walla.

Earlier this year, the Rural Library District informed the city it wanted to negotiate a price closer to $125,000.

In recent weeks, the price was negotiated back up to $188,000, but the Rural Library District stipulated the city would have to remain in the WALNET Library Consortium, which provides the mechanism for inter-library lending between the Walla Walla Library, Rural Library District and Walla Walla Community College.

The Rural Library District also stipulated the city would have pay for an independent consultant who would study the possibility of creating a regional city-county library system that might better serve residents.

Last week the city and Rural Library District met to further work out their differences.

"We are hopeful that the last remaining issues, primarily how the proposed consultant for regional library analysis will be paid, will be resolved at the next WALNET Board meeting. However, should the RLD and city fail to reach agreement it is a likely outcome that the Walla Walla City Library will not be able to provide service to non-city residents," City Manager Nabiel Shawa said.

Should the city and Rural Library District fail to negotiate a contract, the city might refuse service to several thousand county residents who currently hold Walla Walla Library cards, and library hours would be cut, city officials said.

A similar dispute over reimbursement occurred in 2010, but was eventually resolved in March, three months into the current fiscal year.

On Monday, city officials will discuss the 2011-2012 biennial budget at a work session at the City Council Chambers, 15. N. Third Avenue, 4 p.m.

The City Council will also discuss the budget at its regularly scheduled meeting on Nov. 3, 7 p.m., in the Council Chambers. Public testimony will be taken at each meeting.

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