Walla Walla City Council rejects library fund offer

The county Rural Library District had proposed contributing nearly $100,000 less than what the city asked for library operations.

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WALLA WALLA -- Hundreds of city library card holders are less than three months from losing free privileges unless they move into the city limits.

At a special meeting on Monday, City Council members made it clear they are ready to cut services to approximately 1,750 county resident card holders unless the Walla Walla County Rural Library District agrees to pay what Council members claim is the district's fair share.

"I think we do not have a partner who is working with us in good faith. I think that is what it really comes down to. And to me that is not a relationship that we should bend over backwards to continue," Mayor Barbara Clark said.

In recent weeks, city officials proposed a per-capita based contract with the Rural Library District, which had the city continuing to provide cards to all county residents for 2012 in return for a $293,000 payment from the district.

Late last week, the Library District counteroffered with a $198,000 payment, explaining it wanted a credit for services the district is providing to the same population now serviced through the new Plaza Library at 1640 Plaza Way.

"This is a duplication of service. And they should have never established another library within city limits. And I think it is crass that they asked us to fund it," Council member Shane Laib said.

Rural Library District Interim Executive Director Aletha Bonebrake defended the district's counteroffer, stating her organization provided five different funding options, all of which were suggested by an independent library consultant's report.

"I did it every way I could think of, and everyone one of them comes out under $200,000," Bonebrake said, adding that if no contract is agreed upon, the district is ready to provide services to the 1,750 city library card holders through the Plaza Library.

"In no way are we trying to punish the residents of Walla Walla. It is just that the city is asking too much money for the services rendered," Bonebrake said.

The bottom line, Bonebrake said, is that county residents make up 20 percent of the card holders for the Walla Walla Library, but a $293,000 payment would have come to roughly 33 percent of the library's budget.

Bonebrake also noted the same consultant who suggested a per capita reimbursement, among other formulas, also reported that the city was seriously underfunding its own library, at an average of 33 cents per every $1,000 of assessed value, instead of a figure that should be closer to 50 center per $1,000.

"We really want to participate, but it is unreasonable to expect us to backfill their budget," Bonebrake said.

The Council voted 4-1 on Monday to reject the district's offer, with members Jerry Cummins, Fred Mitchell, Laib and Clark all voting against the offer.

The one dissenting vote came from Dominick Elia, who said he felt the ramifications of losing $198,000 were too great and required more time to consider.

"To expect us to financially participate (in supporting the Plaza Library), that is absolutely ludicrous and a pitiful excuse as to why they don't want that amount," Elia said. "My concern is if we tell them to do something different, what impact is that going to have on citizens in the city of Walla Walla."

Before voting, Library Director Beth Hudson made clear what those effects would be:

Weekly hours would be reduced from 47 to 37, and a day of operation would be lost.

Staff would be greatly reduced.

Fewer library attendants would be on hand.

Restocking time and waiting time for materials would increase.

Outreach programs would be cut.

New holdings would be reduced by 30 percent.

Newspapers and magazines would be cut by 50 percent.

Reference and online resources would be cut by 38 percent.

There are also the 1,750 card holders who live outside the city limits who would have to pay for their library cards Jan. 1, 2012.

"They are part of our library family and we don't want to lose them. But how that is going to work, I don't know," Hudson said.

City card holders could also lose the ability to check out books belonging to the Rural Library District or the library at Walla Walla Community College.

Hudson explained that if there is no contract with the county, the city will opt out of the interlibrary loaning consortium known as WALNET.

Walla Walla Library has about 116,000 holdings, the Library District has 76,000, and the college about 40,000, officials said.

Hudson added that less than 2 percent of all material checked out of the Walla Walla Library is through WALNET.

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

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