Rural library board OKs deal with city

But the offer to pay $188,408 a year for the next two years comes with conditions, including hiring a consultant to study how costs are shared.

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WALLA WALLA -- The county Rural Library District board Tuesday approved an offer to reimburse the city of Walla Walla for library services to rural residents.

But while the offer would pay the city $188,408 per year for the next two years, it comes with several conditions, including one calling for a consultant to look over library services throughout the county to sort out just who should pay for what.

If accepted by the city, the action could resolve a months-long disagreement between it and library district over how much the district pays to allow rural residents to use the Walla Walla Public Library without having to pay $135 for a non-resident library card. The current contract expires at the end of this year.

The offer is for the same the district is paying this year. In its earlier discussions, the district had said it wanted to drop that amount to $125,000 or adopt some other method of providing non-residents with library cards.

Along with the annual payment and employment of a consultant, the offer asks for the city to stay in the Walla Walla Area Library Network, known by its acronym of WALNET, for the consultant to be paid for by the city and WALNET if those entities agree and for the city to take part in universal lending for all WALNET participants.

Board members Carol Peterson, Steve Ames, Sandra Bradley and Andrea Berglin voted unanimously to approve the motion. Board member Patsy Adams was absent.

The motion to approve the offer came at the end of the board's regular meeting which drew a crowd of about 45 people, several of whom criticized the district for wanting to reduce its payments while maintaining what they claimed is a $3 million surplus in the district's budget.

But speakers also urged board members to work through their differences with the city so that library services to both city and rural residents remain unaffected.

"I've listened to people on both sides and people on both sides care deeply about the education of (their) children," one woman said. "We strongly urge the employment of a facilitator to work out an agreement. Go forth, hire a facilitator and do good."

Library District Executive Director Punkey Adams said the problems stem from the fact that not only has the agreement between the district and the city have been out of synch with reality for many years, the WALNET agreement between the city, district and Walla Walla Community College is also outdated.

"The agreements don't mesh," she said. "We need one contract, one common agreement that sets out who does what."

Andy Porter can be reached at andyporter@wwub.com or 526-8318. Check out his blog at blogs.ublabs.org/randomthoughts.

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