A consultant’s report gives West Richland several options for how to manage its library, but only a couple appear realistic.
The city has contracted with Mid-Columbia Libraries since 1978, even though it is not part of the library district. The contract will expire at the end of the year.
Mayor Brent Gerry says the $376,000 the city now pays (Benton County contributes another $119,000) is not sustainable because of declining revenue from 2.5 percent of utility taxes that voters approved to go toward the library in 2001.
The city’s cost for the library has increased by an average of 5.6 percent per year, according to the report. The cost is expected to increase by 3.7 percent per year between now and 2020.
“It’s costing us more, and we’re bringing in less,” Gerry said.
The city owns the building housing the library at 3803 W. Van Giesen Street, but Mid-Columbia Libraries owns the collection.
Ruth Metz Associates, which the city is paying up to $25,000 for the study and other consulting services, lists two major alternatives to contracting with Mid-Columbia Libraries — contracting with Richland, which has a library outside the district, and contracting with Library Systems & Services LLC, or LSSI Inc., a Maryland-based for-profit library operator.
But the report ultimately says West Richland should either stay with Mid-Columbia Libraries or go to Richland.
LSSI is considered a viable option, but not as strong as contracting with Richland, according to Metz’s 39-page report. LSSI is typically a last resort for cities whose libraries are financially compromised.
Metz estimates that West Richland would be able to contract with Richland for $410,829, while LSSI provided a non-detailed estimate showing it could do the job for $370,000 plus $60,000 annually for collections.
Richland is the more viable option of the two because of its proximity to West Richland and the flexibility it offers, the report said.
Replacing the library’s collection could cost as much as $543,000, but the city could include a provision in its contract with Richland for “gradual and targeted” replacement, as well as use of the Richland Public Library by West Richland residents.
An option under contracting with Richland would be a regional library, which could include one, two or more branches.
But Gerry said West Richland will continue to have a library.
Reasons to stay with Mid-Columbia Libraries include the 400,000 items in its system. Library spokesman Davin Diaz told the Herald that library users can request an item from any of Mid-Columbia’s 12 branches and have it within 24 hours.
“Not only do West Richland residents have access to the physical materials at their branch, they have access to the physical materials at all the other libraries,” he said.
West Richland residents would also be on the hook for their entire share of the contract with the Richland library, because Benton County would not assist on a contract with Richland, Diaz said.
The report recommends that West Richland continue to discuss renewing the contract with Mid-Columbia Libraries, but also suggests meeting with Richland City Manager Cindy Johnson to determine her city’s level of interest.
Richland City Council members were provided with information from West Richland before their meeting Tuesday evening.
The report also advises West Richland to have one or more town hall meetings on the subject, something Gerry agrees with.
“We’re going to certainly reach out to our citizens,” he said.
Mid-Columbia Libraries Executive Director Kyle Cox has said that annexing West Richland into the library district would be the best solution. But the report said that would reduce the city’s levy capacity.
Another option the report mentioned is West Richland starting its own library, with a board appointed by the city council. But that typically has more overhead, costs more to operate and has higher salaries than a library district.
Mid-Columbia Libraries charges West Richland the equivalent of the 37 cents per $1,000 property tax valuation that other entities pay, Diaz said.
That is the lowest in Washington for cities of comparable size or larger, he said.
West Richland is the fourth most-used branch in the Mid-Columbia Libraries system, and trails only the Union Street library in Kennewick in digital materials checked out, Diaz said.
He does not feel the report took the advances the district has made in technology into account.
“Mid-Columbia Libraries deploys a 21st Century model,” he said. “We recognize the transition from physical books to digital.”