Library study to meet public

A consultant's draft report recommends the city's library be annexed by the Rural Library District, a move that could raise taxes for residents.

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WALLA WALLA - A library study spurred by contract disputes between the city and rural libraries systems will be reviewed at a public meeting this week.

The study points to a system for operating area libraries that would result in a tax hike for city residents.

What won't be part of the "Models For Sustainable Library Services Report" is a fix for the contentious funding relationship between the city of Walla Walla and the Walla Walla Rural Library District.

"I had understood that one component of the report would be a proposed formula for a contract in case a regional contract couldn't work … I was surprised to find out that they were not including that in the report," said city Mayor Barbara Clark.

Council members Dominick Elia and Shane Laib said they, too, expected some sort of contract recommendation to help solve the yearly dispute.

For more than three decades, the Rural Library District has paid the city to provide library services to residents who live in the surrounding unincorporated areas.

According to the report, over the last decade the Rural Library District has changed its funding model, and in 2009 completely switched from turning over a portion of its property tax levy to paying for cardholders who reside in the nearby unincorporated areas.

A result of that change was the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding for the Walla Walla Public Library.

In addition, yearly contract negotiations have been contentious, drawn out and leaving the city feeling it is getting too little and the district feeling it is paying too much.

As of Saturday afternoon, a draft of the report had yet to be delivered, but a preliminary report was submitted earlier this month.

That report contained a general history of library services and funding in Walla Walla County, as well as looking at four alternative models, along with the current funding model.

Of the five models reviewed, the one recommended by consultant Ruth Metz, a Portland-based library strategic planner, was a system that would increase taxes on city residents.

"The annexation of Walla Walla to the RLD (Rural Library District) is crucial to this model because it secures a rate of funding for library services that would equal that of the existing RLD," Metz wrote.

In the annexation model, Walla Walla, College Place, Prescott and Waitsburg would all join the Rural Library District, which is funded by property taxes.

If the City Council, county commissioners and eventually the voting public of each municipality approved being annexed into the Rural Library District, it could then impose a tax of up to 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed home value.

If the district were to take the full levy amount, the owner of a $150,000 home would pay $75 a year more in property taxes to fund Walla Walla County libraries, which would include their own city libraries.

While Metz noted that the figures in her report were preliminary and still needed verification from the county Assessor, she concluded that in 2010 the Rural Library District and the cities of Walla Walla, College Place, Prescott and Waitsburg together supported $1.76 million in library funds; $694,643 came from the Walla Walla general fund for that year.

Had a countywide library district been in place with a tax levy of 46 cents per $1,000, Metz said the combined support would have been $2.25 million, which would not include any general funds from Walla Walla.

Another funding model looked at by Metz was a regional library district in which funds between the city and Rural Library District are commingled. But no extra funds were associated with this model, which would mean the city would still have to fund the library primarily through its general fund.

The report also looked at expanding the scope and jurisdiction of WALNET, which is a consortium of the Walla Walla Library, the Rural Library District and Walla Walla Community College Library. The three research, implement and maintain automated systems that allow patrons to locate materials in other libraries.

The report said WALNET is too small to operate a regional library system; it has a yearly budget of about $30,000 derived from the three members.

The city has said it will leave WALNET in 2012.

Along with the possibility of keeping the current system, the report also looked at reversing it.

In this model the Rural Library District would operate and possibly own the city's library, and the city would pay the district to run it.

The report noted there is a "direct relationship between people using their libraries … and supporting their libraries," but limited hours due to a lack of funding keeps people from using libraries.

Metz wrote that adding to the problem is the "dissonance among community and library leaders" and the lack of a cohesiveness and vision.

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

meeting times

A public meeting to review the draft report will be held Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Walla Walla Fire District 4 Station, 2251 Howard St.

Earlier, at 4 p.m., the City Council will discuss and possibly take action on the report at a special meeting that is also open to the public. That meeting will be at the city hall chambers, 15 N. Third Ave.

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