Public would benefit with city, RLD working together

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I’ve been reluctant to enter the discussion about fairness of past contracts between the Rural Library District and the city of Walla Walla, because I assumed that any problems of the past would be solved by adoption of current proposals for annexation or a long-term service contract.

Under the annexation proposal, separate city and RLD library services would be replaced by a single, larger RLD made up of current RLD residents plus city residents.

Everyone in this expanded RLD would pay the exact same rate for access to library services and be represented by a single board of directors.

Under the long-term contract proposal, everyone in the combined service area would pay the same rate as well. RLD residents would have representatives on the city library board.

But now the RLD board has said it will not consider annexation, and its Aug. 14 advertisement in the U-B has generated some confusion regarding contracts, so clarification seems necessary.

The city has supplied library services to RLD residents for 38 years under various contracts negotiated by the parties. From available information, the contract amount paid by the RLD during the 25 years from 1975 through 1999 rose and fell but hovered at about 26 percent of the total operating costs of the public library.

Since the RLD population is a little over one-third of the total population served by the city library, it would have been fair if its contribution had been closer to 33 percent, but the actual numbers seem to have been acceptable to everyone.

From 1996 to 2008 the contract amount was a percentage of the total property tax collected in Fire Districts 4 and 8, and as property values rose, so did the contract payments. From 2000 to 2003 the amount was about 30 percent of the operating budget, but from 2004 to 2008 it was near or above 35 percent.

The contract was then renegotiated, and in 2009 it fell to under 25 percent and even lower in 2010 and 2011.

In sum, for 34 of the 38 years of contracts, the city paid a 67 percent fair share of the library’s operating budget or more. Conversely, for 34 of the 38 years, the RLD paid a 33 percent fair share or less. The RLD paid more than its fair share for only four years of the 38.

Since there are reasonable solutions, it would benefit everyone if we could lay the past to rest and all get on with implementing either of the current proposals that would provide the unified library system almost everybody wants.

The RLD is understandably less cost-effective than the city library because its rural population is spread thinly over a large area, requiring more buildings and other overhead to serve fewer people. In 2011, according to State Library figures, the RLD spent $15.46 to circulate a book while the city library spent only $2.89.

The RLD spent 98 cents per person for materials, while the city library spent only 38 cents per person. Yet the city’s collection is substantially larger than that of the RLD, and each city book, CD or DVD circulated 10.19 times during the year while RLD items circulated only 3.37 times.

Adding another urban library rather than taking advantage of the cost efficiencies of the existing one seems to me a poor use of public funds.

For example, under the long-term contract proposal, the RLD would pay about $275,000 a year to provide library services for its urban residents.

That’s considerably less than its planned $3.5 million construction plus annual operating and building maintenance expense for a second urban library.

Not only would a new library cost the RLD more to serve its urban residents, but that extra cost is money that could be used instead to improve service to the RLD’s rural residents in and around Touchet, Burbank, Prescott, Vista Hermosa, Farm Labor Homes, and areas east of Walla Walla.

We really should all be working together to make good use of public money and resources.

Barbara Clark is a Walla Walla City Council member.

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Comments

JustWondering says...

Quite the contrary, Council member Barabara Clark has immersed herself in library contract issues, discussions and operations - both with WALNET and the RLD these last few years. The new RLD library facility would not duplicate anything already in existance and, for the most part, it would combine services and collections currently housed in either existing RLD libraries or space leased by the RLD. That is being both accountable and efficient.

The City Council pretends that the RLDs plans to build a new library is the block to annexation. It should be honest and admit that it does not plan to support the WWPL out of the general fund with anything even close to the support provided by similiar size cities in the state. The RLD has to take out an ad to tell its story - otherwise most of an article about the RLD by the UB ends up on the correction page the next day..or so. When was the last time the UB printed letters received by library users supporting the RLD (and it has received them), interviewed the RLD Board or Director, ran a piece on the marvelous childrens programming also going on in the county this summer?

The WWPL has a larger circulation rate because 1.) of its method for counting circs and 2.) it has fewer current materials to circulate with a denser population in close proximity - of course the circ rate is going to be higher. WWPL was happy to drop out of WALNET . It couldn't handle the borrowing/loaning traffic generated by its own patrons requesting RLD and WWCC materials.

We should be working together on this issue but over and over again the City Council has blocked progress by manipulating public opinion, denegrating the rural residents (WWPL patrons read more books than do rural residents? What is she implying?!), breaking off negotiations and refusing to include annexation as part of the contract process. When the City is ready to mature and put past practices aside the RLD Board will once again be ready to listen. The RLD has a marvelous strategic plan. It knows where it is going and why. When the City wants to join that effort, it will be a great day for city library users and those residents who live close to the city limits.

Posted 31 August 2012, 3:52 p.m. Suggest removal

jcwestbrook says...

This reads like, "I'm better than you - but let's cooperate!" Seems passive aggressive.

She says she is for annexation but then goes on to talk most about long term contracts that avoid annexation.

Like asking someone to marry you but saying they are really ugly at the same time.

Cost per Circulation isn't a standard statistic - libraries do more than check out items. Computers are used, questions are answered, story times are performed - it's a loaded statistic. You could turn it around and say that a very low cost per circulation means your library is underfunded and your staff must be running ragged trying to keep up with check out demands.

Statistics can be used to show whatever you want them to - here's an example:

According to the 2010 Washington Public Library Statistical report of all public libraries serving a population of over 5,000 people in Washington State, the Walla Walla Public Library has the highest percentage of Personnel Expenditures - over 83% of their budget spent on personnel.

The same report shows that the Walla Walla Public Library has the second highest non-resident card fee in the state at $135 per year. (Puyallup beat them at $150)

Statistics allow you to cherry pick whatever you want to meet your needs.

Barbara rightly states that it is more expensive to operate several smaller facilities in rural areas and that rural libraries need to do this to serve their populations. She then turns around to criticize the rural library for their services being more expensive when she just finished justifying it being more expensive??? Of course cost of service doesn't factor into quality of service at all. A service can be inexpensive and completely terrible.

It makes sense to think the rural library board is hesitant to consider annexation of the city of Walla Walla because of the loaded requests of the Library User's Coalition. Don't forget that the Library User's Coalition has already turned in an official complaint to have the entire rural library board removed.

I would assume it's difficult to cooperate with someone that has asked for you to be fired.

The rural library's statistics will be more in line with what Barbara prefers when they are allowed to expand their services appropriately to their own residents. And that would be residents throughout the entire county - don't let her tell you that residents in the outlying areas are being short changed. The only way rural residents will be short changed is if all of the rural library district funds are spent on the Walla Walla Public Library building. In that situation there would be nothing left to spend on expanding service in the outlying areas at all.

There is room for more than one library in Walla Walla - and there is room for both of these libraries to work together. But only when the situation isn't loaded with promises to one side and ensuring the rural library board is removed for political reasons.

Posted 31 August 2012, 8:24 p.m. Suggest removal

JustWondering says...

The above response is more worthy of a Special to the Union Bulletin spot than Barbara Clark's continuing series of 'misinformation', and recycled, and insulting remarks. Debating one sentence in a full page ad? How desperate is that. 'Either of current proposals,' refers to 2 ideas, she assisted the WWPL Director prepare for the Library Working Group. They were presented, along with other ideas - none of which were seriously considered let alone developed. The City Council has not discussed these proposals and, in fact, announced at the time they were distributed in a Council meeting, that there would be no further contract negotiations with the RLD Board.

Posted 1 September 2012, 9:02 a.m. Suggest removal

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