Let county residents in urban area decide library issue

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I’ve been volunteering my time as an attorney to help the Library Users Coalition, a group composed of city and county residents who believe there should be a single public library serving the urban area and its residents.

For two neighboring jurisdictions to build and operate duplicate facilities in close proximity to each other in an age of scarce resources is to me a great embarrassment and mistake for our communities. Because of that, I supported a proposal to annex the city into the Rural Library District so we’d all be in this together, and could make a single decision about how to proceed.

Unfortunately, the Rural Library District Board has vetoed this until it can build its own library just outside the Walla Walla city limits.

Everyone wants good library service as close to home as possible. The 3,200 people in Burbank are scheduled to have their county library expanded, along with the 700 residents of Touchet and the 300 residents in Prescott.

For the 10,200 Rural Library District residents in the urban area surrounding Walla Walla, often referred to as the “doughnut,” their current service at the Walla Walla Public Library is scheduled to be terminated by the RLD Board and replaced by service at a new county library to be built in the urban area at a cost of approximately $3.5 million.

Funding is to come in part from a $2.5 million USDA loan to the RLD, to be paid off over many years. Just as residents of Burbank, Touchet and Prescott should be asked what they think of proposed library services in their communities, county residents in the area immediately surrounding the city of Walla Walla should be asked how they prefer to receive their library services.

After all, urban-area residents constitute a majority of the citizens and taxpayers in the Rural Library District — 10,200 compared to 6,500 in all other areas. They also pay the majority of the district’s taxes — considerably more than the Rural Library District has been paying to have them served at the Walla Walla Public Library.

The RLD board has said those opposing its building a second urban library are a small group, and that most district residents support the Board’s plan.

We can and should find out if that’s true by taking a simple poll of the county residents of the perimeter area, which coincides with Fire Districts 4 and 8.

Before doing that, let’s ask all sides to agree to abide by the result. A ballot could then be mailed to all county residents of the perimeter area or made available at a meeting of the residents of that area asking if residents prefer the RLD proceed with its $2.5 million loan and plans to build a new 15,000-square-foot library near the Walla Walla city limits. If a majority of those voting say yes, I agree to stop opposing the project and will urge others to do so as well.

On the other hand, if a majority of those polled say they prefer their tax dollars be used to continue their library service at the Walla Walla Public Library, then the Rural Library District Board should terminate its urban area building project, the USDA should refuse to guarantee its loan for that purpose and the RLD should renew arrangements for city services to its residents at the Walla Walla Public Library.

What could be fairer than asking the people who will use the library and pay the bills? Let’s let the people decide.

Daniel N. Clark is a Walla Walla native and retired attorney. He is also a founder and coordinator of Walla Walla 2020, a citizens group working to protect and increase the quality of life for residents of the Walla Walla area.

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