Although Walla Walla County commissioners have no authority over the Rural Library District or its Board of Directors, the three commissioners nevertheless showed needed leadership in trying to resolve the local library services dispute.
The commissioners sent a letter to the RLD asking it to put a hold on plans to build a $3.6 million branch in or near Walla Walla until a conversation can take place on library services.
The letter went on to say the commissioners — Greg Tompkins, Perry Dozier and Jim Johnson — met with Walla Walla City Manager Nabiel Shawa, who said the city remains interested in finding ways to work with the RLD to provide library services to county residents. The letter proposed including College Place, Waitsburg and Prescott in future discussions.
We continue to believe it is best for the entire county if the cities and the RLD merge into a city-county library system. It should result in better service at a lower cost by not having duplicated services.
To this point, the RLD Board members are holding firm about having their own building. And they are frustrated by criticism of their position.
Frankly, they have reason to feel that way. The RLD has been great partners with the city library. It has provided hundreds of thousands of dollars in supplements to the city library so RLD residents can get library cards at the city library.
As the city trimmed spending for its library, cutting hours and services, the RLD found itself getting less for its financial contributions.
This has been tough on the city library staff too. Nevertheless, those who manage and work at the city library have done an outstanding job in the face of diminishing resources.
We understand why RLD is looking to build its own urban-area branch. It’s much like those who decide to buy a house rather than rent.
While that analogy makes perfect sense from an emotional standpoint, it falls apart when you consider this is about a public service provided by two different government entities for a people who literally live across the street from each other.
Now is the time to consider merging the two library systems.
State law is complex in these matters, so we have no illusions this would be easy from a procedural standpoint. The political issues could be even trickier.
But on the surface it looks like everybody in the county — including those who live within city limits — could share services if the RLD model was imposed countywide. This likely means voters would have to approve the property tax up to 50 cents per $1,000.
This would be a tough sell for some, particularly those who live in Walla Walla. After all, the city already funds library services.
What if the city reduced its tax collection equal to what it now spends on library services? For example, reduce sales tax by one-tenth or two-tenths of a percent.
We can see a scenario where the library systems merge and the current staffs are hired to run the various libraries. This should result in superior library services. Everybody wins.