By the Herald editorial staff
Pasco has decided that the cost of being served by the Mid-Columbia Libraries system is too high.
The city wants to pay a reduced rate and is willing to take a reduction in library services in return.
With its contract with the library system set to expire next year, the city has taken negotiations in the matter to a high level. City and library officials have asked the state attorney general for an opinion on whether the city's request for a reduced rate and services could be allowed by the district. Currently, all cities that contract with the library system pay the same rate.
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While we know that most governments are struggling to find ways to minimize expenses, Pasco seems to be asking for the opposite of what its every growing population wants from a library.
Recent studies commissioned by the city show that residents want more services and a second branch to serve the expanding area of west Pasco. So it sounds like the city's wishes for library service are directly at odds with its taxpayers.
Pasco residents often point to Kennewick's two libraries, but fail to remember that the Union branch only was built after voters approved a tax increase.
We have to wonder how badly Pasco wants another library. Would voters approve a bond to build a new one?
We've long thought a second library was due in Pasco. Explosive growth and the varied services offered by the Mid-Columbia libraries merit it.
At the heavily used Pasco library, checkouts were up 43 percent in October over a year ago, and computer sessions were up 51 percent over the previous October.
The cost of operating the library is significant, with the service expected to cost Pasco about $1.3 million next year. Depending on which figures you look at and what level of services would be offered, the city could operate a library on its own for a little less than that or for nearly twice as much. With 400,000 items available to users of the Mid-Columbia Libraries network, the city would be hard pressed to match that depth of resources.
Operating independently is not unprecedented. Richland just finished a $17 million remodel of its own library, which is a jewel for that city's residents. But that cost was approved by and paid for by voters.
As the value of property in Pasco continues to increase, so does the fee owed to the library system. At a levy rate of 42 cents per $1,000 and with an increase in assessed value of $58 million, Pasco's fee to the library system increased by $24,360 this past year.
The city manager says that at that rate, the city can no longer afford the library system's services. The only way the city could maintain a contract for library services would be at a reduced rate with more limited services, some officals say.
Whether that's even allowed is a decision for the Attorney General's Office. We're glad to see the proactive gesture to get that information before negotiations go much further. That opinion, expected in one or two months, should paint a clearer picture for both sides.
Whichever way this goes, library services in Pasco need to expand to keep up with the city's rate of growth. A reduction in services just doesn't make sense for a city whose residents are crying out for more.