Finally, a positive step in the ongoing dispute over local library services.
On Wednesday, the Walla Walla City Council approved a plan to allow full access to the city library to county residents who purchase cards for $68 per household. No, that isn't cheap, but it ensures those living outside the city limits aren't shut out of library services.
Before the library card option was approved, county residents would have been cut off from checking out materials as of Jan. 1 because the Rural Library District no longer has an agreement with the city library. The RLD has been subsidizing the city library so residents of the RLD, which is the area surrounding the city, could have full access to the city library.
But RLD officials decided the annual payments were too high and have embarked on a plan to build a new library in or near the city of Walla Walla. The RLD has plans to spend about $3 million on the new library and then borrow another $2 million to upgrade RLD facilities in Prescott, Burbank and Touchet.
We see the construction of a new library as a waste of taxpayer dollars and a duplication of services. We believe the best approach would be for the two library entities to merge, pool their resources, and serve all the folks inside and outside the city limits.
The Walla Walla area is not big enough to need two full-service libraries.
Nevertheless, the RLD is moving forward.
It is our hope the RLD Board of Directors will reconsider and reach a long-term agreement with the city of Walla Walla. Or we could get behind a plan to annex the city into the RLD, thus merging the services. This second option will take strong leadership.
Although the Walla Walla County Board of Commissioners has no direct authority over the RLD, we see the commissioners as countywide elected officials, in a position to bring folks together. Walla Walla City Council members could also have a role as could our state legislators.
In the meantime, the $68 buys some time. It ensures access to the library will not be cut off. In addition, it forces the RLD to consider its obligation to its taxpayers by reimbursing them for all or part of the $68 fee.
The city library cards should be funded by the RLD.
After that, we would hope the RLD Board puts its construction plans on hold and works with elected officials and others in the community to come up with a plan that will result in full library services for all.