Pasco is feeling growing pains and library services are one area where it's starting to hurt a lot.
The city is growing, but not nearly as quickly as its annual assessment to the Mid-Columbia Library District. The fee the city pays to the library system has almost tripled in the past 10 years, and population has not quite doubled.
And service has not kept up with demand.
The fee is based on property values in the library service area. Pasco's overall valuation has increased significantly -- about 11 percent per year over the past 10 years.
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It's no wonder Pasco officials are taking a careful look before renewing the city's contract for library services.
They misstate the case, however, when they point out the library assessment went up while the city's property tax rate declined. That's not a fair comparison.
The overall tax dollars collected didn't go down, just the rate property owners pay per $1,000 of valuation. The same forces that drive down tax rates -- population growth and rising property values -- also drive up total tax collections, along with the library's assessment.
But that's an aside to the real issue.
Last year, Pasco put more than $1 million into the pot and got a direct return of 33 cents on the dollar from the library system, according to Stan Strebel, deputy city manager.
Some shared expenses don't show up in that calculation, library officials point out.
Even so, of the eight cities the district serves, Pasco gets the lowest rate of return, Strebel told Herald reporter Kristi Pihl.
A pair of studies by library consultant Ruth Metz found that Pasco is getting a good deal from Mid-Columbia Libraries.
But that doesn't alter Pasco's claim to last place when it comes to bang for the buck.
Kennewick, for example, receives almost double the return that Pasco receives -- 59 cents in services for each dollar spent.
The library district needs to do more than cite a consultant's findings to convince city officials they're getting their money's worth.
An opinion from the state attorney general's office will provide direction on whether the city can purchase its services a la carte, perhaps taking a pass on the bookmobile, for example.
It's not what the citizens are saying they want, however. Residents are looking for more service, not less. A new library at the west end of town is on a lot of people's wish lists. After all, it's about a 15-mile round trip from the new high school to the old library.
Unfortunately, there are no easy answers.
It may be more expensive for Pasco to separate from the library system, and the city would end up with fewer materials in its collection to boot.
Right now, a patron can jump on a computer and order a book or movie from any of the eight libraries in the system and have it delivered right to Pasco.
Negotiating a new contract for fewer services would save Pasco some money, but runs counter to the needs of a growing population.
Leaving the library district isn't a great option either. The loss of Pasco's $1.2 million fee would be keenly felt by throughout the system.
Reaching an equitable agreement seems preferable to the alternatives, but who knows if the city and library district can get there?
The city's leaders are charged with making sound fiscal decisions, and the city's readers want improved library services.
Let's hope there's a way to satisfy both.