WALLA WALLA -- Better cooperation is key to solving the region's library woes, especially if city and county officials decide to follow a consultant's recent recommendation to annex into one regional library taxing district.
"I think that has been our problem the whole time, and that has been my stick the whole time. And I love that idea (of cooperating), and I say let's work on this idea," Walla Walla City Council member Shane Laib said at a meeting Wednesday afternoon to review the recently released report, "Pathways to Sustainable Libraries: Walla Walla, County, WA."
Earlier this year, library consultant Ruth Metz was hired by WALNET -- a consortium of the city library, the Walla Walla County Rural Library District and the Walla Walla Community College Library -- to find possible ways to improve funding for the region's libraries.
Metz studied commingled funding, in which city and county funds are joined together to form one regional system; sticking with the current system, in which the Rural Library District pays the city to provide services to residents of the nearby unincorporated areas; and reversing the current system, so the city would pay the Rural Library District to provide services to city residents.
But all three options lack what annexation can do: provide stable dedicated funding via taxes.
"The fallback to the annexation...the creation of a regional library district, is a second option ... but with no new money," Metz said.
Metz's recommended solution would have residents of Walla Walla, College Place, Prescott and Waitsburg voting to be annexed into the Rural Library District.
"These annexations don't have to happen at the same time, but the crucial one is the city of Walla Walla." Metz said, adding that if all four cities joined, the result would be an additional $400,000 in funding.
Currently, all library funding in the county, including municipalities, comes to about $1.9 million per year; if residents from all four incorporated cities voted to be included into the Walla Walla County Rural Library District, that figure could increase to $2.2 million, according to Metz.
Even more, the consultant reported the formation of one district serving the entire county would further increase funding due to reduced operating costs.
Grants and other funding sources would also be more readily available to the larger district, she added.
The downside would be higher taxes for city residents.
Rural Library District residents now pay a property tax of about 46 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation; if annexed, city residents would pay the same amount as county residents.
The annexation of the four cities into the district would require approval by city councils, county commissioners and eventually voters, with a simple majority needed to pass.
Regardless of whether the annexation model is followed, city and county officials were urged to form one operating system to save money.
"Whether or not you do the annexation, to survive you need a consolidated model," Metz said.
She also noted the current contractual model between the city and Rural Library District needs to change to where the district has more input over what services will be provided by the city to its county clients and more cooperation overall.
"They really must find a way to make the relationship work because if they don't the public is the loser," Metz wrote in her report.
Alfred Diaz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8325.
Read the report
Read "Pathways to Sustainable Libraries: Walla Walla, County, WA" at ubne.ws/j1KjTg.
Pathways to Sustainable Libraries - Walla Walla, WA