How West Richland will pay to keep its library open is uncertain as city officials face declining income from the tax that covers its library services.
The city and Mid-Columbia Libraries recently agreed to a 12-month extension of the contract, city and library officials said.
Library officials said they are optimistic about crafting a separate new contract with the city in coming months.
Talks between the city and library have been diplomatic, said Kyle Cox, Mid-Columbia Libraries’ executive director. However, he emphasized that a multi-year contract is the library district’s goal.
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“Going into every year hoping they’ll renew isn’t beneficial,” he said.
Mayor Brent Gerry said that there’s no risk the city will lose its library, but the city needs more flexibility from the library district. City projections show the utility tax being unable to support the library contract in at least eight years.
West Richland is not part of the library district and pays $368,000 per year for Mid-Columbia Libraries to run its library. Benton County throws in another $100,000 a year toward the contract.
The city uses a portion of voter-approved city taxes on electric, telephone and gas service to pay for library services. It was passed in 2001. Utility taxes are the city’s primary revenue source and the bulk of that money pays for other services such as public safety.
But utility tax income has declined 5 percent to 8 percent annually since 2011, said Jessica Platt, the city’s finance director, largely because people are discontinuing their land line phones and using only cellphones.
Meanwhile, the city’s past multi-year contract with Mid-Columbia Libraries increases 5 percent to 6 percent a year.
Gerry was elected about a year ago and said he wants to take time to read the city’s past contracts with the library district and become familiar with them. But he’s also concerned Mid-Columbia Libraries wants a five-year contract with the city despite evidence the city may not have the money for it down the road.
City and library officials said it’s too soon to say what the solution to the contract negotiations will be.
Bringing West Richland into the library district isn’t an option, they said, because it would limit West Richland’s ability to collect taxes as the city would hit its levy lid and lower Mid-Columbia Libraries’ tax levy across its entire district, reducing how much the library would receive from taxpayers.
The West Richland library near the corner of Van Giesen and 38th streets is the fourth busiest in the Tri-Cities, ranking only behind the Pasco branches and the Union Street branch in Kennewick, according to 2013 circulation figures.