Officials of the Rural Library District, which serves people living outside of the city limits of Walla Walla and College Place, have made it clear they plan to forge ahead with constructing a new branch.
The RLD has plans to spend about $3 million on a new library near or in the city of Walla Walla and then borrow another $2 million to upgrade RLD facilities in Prescott, Burbank and Touchet.
When many folks living in Walla Walla County — whether inside or outside of city limits — hear this their initial reaction is a puzzled look followed by: “Why? Don’t most of the people in the county live near the city limits? Why can’t all those people continue to use the city of Walla Walla’s Public Library?”
The simple answer is they should be able continue to use the city library.
Unfortunately, when it comes to government regulations few things are simple. And this issue seems to be more complex than most.
The Walla Walla library is funded through the city’s general fund.
But here is where it gets tricky. The RLD is funded through a property tax — 50 cents for every $1,000 of assessed property value for property outside of the city limits. The RLD gets its funding from a “junior taxing district,” which was formed in 1972 by a vote of 1,426 yes to 1,422 no. Once the taxing district is formed it does not need to be renewed.
The RLD had been contracting with the city to let those in the RLD use the city library, essentially using a big chunk of the tax money collected to buy library cards for RLD residents.
However, that arrangement is now going to end since the city and RLD can’t agree on a new contract. The RLD is moving ahead with plans to shut down the tiny RLD library off Plaza Way and then build its own urban-area library.
It feels like a runway train.
An independent coalition of citizens is trying to resolve the dispute between the city and RLD. It has asked the city to let citizens settle the matter with a vote on annexation into the Walla Walla County Rural Library Taxing District.
The idea is worthy of discussion.
It’s too late to get the issue on the November ballot, but it’s not too late to consider a new direction.
The RLD should put the brakes on its plans and consider the coalition’s plan to merge library services.
Let the public — inside and outside the city limits — discuss what this would mean in terms of taxes and services. The city of College Place should also get involved.
Library services are a community need that don’t necessarily follow city-county boundaries.
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