Voters, along with this editorial board, have a lot of tough choices to make this election season.
That’s why it’s so refreshing when the choices are clear ones.
Two Mid-Columbia communities are asking voters to approve continuing their library services.
We’re big fans of libraries and of the services they provide in the cities and towns they serve.
The Mid-Columbia Libraries provides contract services to Kahlotus and West Richland. Having a contract with Mid-Columbia Libraries means the responsibility for paying for library services is on the cities themselves, which can leave them in flux when budgets are tight or funding is depleted.
In Kahlotus, voters are being asked to become a part of the library system through annexation. That would shift the obligation for funding library services from the city’s general fund to Mid-Columbia Libraries. That means library services would no longer be in competition for funding with other vital city services.
But that doesn’t mean it’s free.
Property owners in the library district would pay 37 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. That means the owner of a $200,000 home would pay about $74 a year.
Under its contract, the city currently pays $1,670 for library services. If passed, voters can expect to see the library move into a larger building because a stable funding source will allow for long-term planning.
In West Richland, residents are being asked to decide the fate of their library service. That city, too, has a contract with Mid-Columbia Libraries. But the funding source the city relied on to pay for library services has foundered. Voters there passed a utility tax on phone, electrical and natural gas in 2003.
But by about 2011, more people gave up landlines for mobile phones and we experienced mild winters that saw electrical bills drop, making the intended revenue source no longer viable.
Last year the city’s library tax brought in about $365,000. Its contract with the library system is $400,000. In addition to that is maintenance on the library building, which is the city’s responsibility.
Property owners would pay 45 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, with about 7 cents of that kept by the city to maintain the library building and the rest paid to Mid-Columbia Libraries.
So the owner of a $200,000 home would pay about $90 a year. That’s an estimated $15 a year more than is currently paid by utility fees, which would be terminated at the end of 2016.
If passed, the library tax would raise about $497,000 in 2017. The change would provide stable funding for years ahead.
The West Richland library has a staff of eight and is open daily. Residents checked out more than 170,000 items in 2015 and used the digital checkout service at a rate three times higher than the rest of the system, according to MCL data.
The city’s library fund is expected to be depleted by spring. If voters do not pass the measure, West Richland plans to terminate its contract with Mid-Columbia Libraries, leaving residents there in limbo.
Voters have an easy choice to make in Kahlotus and West Richland: keep your libraries thriving.