Library study doesn't offer realistic options

The report's recommendation to impose a property tax to fund the library services is not likely to be embraced by city residents.

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Walla Wallans have been -- as they should be -- supportive of the city library.

Libraries provide a window to the world and are particularly important for people who don't have access to the Internet and who can't easily afford to purchase books or other material.

But we don't believe citizens will embrace the suggestions outlined in a $40,000 study on how to fund operations of city and rural libraries so they can serve all of the county's residents.

The report, funded by WALNET -- a consortium of the city library, the rural library district and the Walla Walla Community College library -- looked at four alternative funding models along with the current funding model.

Of the five models, the one recommended by consultant Ruth Metz, a Portland-based library strategic planner, was for the rural library system to annex the city library and then impose a property tax on residents to fund the expanded system.

"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 that model, Walla Walla, College Place, Prescott and Waitsburg -- all incorporated cities -- would all join the Rural Library District, which is funded by property taxes. If the full amount was imposed, the tax would be 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed home value. That means the owner of a $200,000 home would see a property tax increase of $100 a year.

Walla Walla residents aren't going to see much, if any, increase in the library services provided. They library is nowpaid for out of the city's general fund. The only real benefit would be to rural residents and those living in the other three cities. They would have access to the Walla Walla library.

The focus should have been on improving the current system, not raising taxes for city residents.

The Rural Library District -- funded by a property tax in the district -- has had a contract with the city of Walla Walla, which allows residents who pay property tax to use the city library.

But in 2010, for the second consecutive year, the Rural Library District reduced the amount it paid for city library services. The amount paid in 2010 was $188,000. Two years ago, the Rural Library District reducing its reimbursement to the city from $365,000 in 2008 to $235,000.

The money was critical to the Walla Walla library.

Clearly it would be in everyone's best interest in the county to find a way to provide a quality library at a central location -- Walla Walla -- to serve the needs of the majority of county residents.

But getting city residents to accept a new property tax to pay for a service they are already receiving falls somewhere between extremely difficult to impossible.

Unless in the final report offers a clear vision for resolving this dispute, we fear WALNET's $40,000 purchased a study that will ultimately sit on a shelf and collect dust.

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