Annexation into the Mid-Columbia Libraries will be one of the two options discussed at an upcoming meeting aimed at finding a permanent solution for paying for the city’s branch library.
A seven-member committee of West Richland residents recently released its recommendations to city officials ahead of the June 14 town hall meeting.
Besides annexation, the committee alternatively suggested an increase to the city’s current utility tax to pay for library services currently offered on contract from the library district.
The town hall meeting will be from 6 to 8 p.m. at Enterprise Middle School. City officials are expected to also discuss the topic during work sessions later in the month.
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“We hope to gain a lot of good feedback from our citizens,” said Jessica Platt, the city’s finance director.
The city has struggled for years on how to sustain funding for its library services contract. It primarily uses revenue from a utility tax on gas, electricity and telephone service to pay Mid-Columbia Libraries to operate the city-owned library building on Van Giesen Street. But collections from that tax have declined steadily for years, largely because people are dropping their telephone service and strictly using cellphones.
City officials considered switching to a private library operator or contracting with the city of Richland for library services. That was considered unfeasible, largely because it would have required the city to pay to replace the collection of books, movies, CDs and other media Mid-Columbia Libraries puts in the local branch. And most city residents also are pleased with the library district’s service based on past surveys.
Annexation would allow the city to avoid regular contract negotiations with the library district for services, such as the drawn out talks that took place in 2014. It would cost taxpayers slightly less money over the long term compared to raising the utility tax, according to the committee report.
Library officials said earlier this year they planned to approach West Richland and three other cities they serve on contract about the possibility of annexing into the district. Doing so would provide Mid-Columbia Libraries a more stable property tax income and assurance of a long-term presence in those communities, library officials have said.
However, the library district was wary of annexation a few years ago, as taxes in the city are already so high that adding the library’s property tax levy to the rolls would cause city taxpayers to hit the levy lid, potentially limiting how much money Mid-Columbia Libraries could collect.
Annexation would require West Richland residents to approve it on a ballot.