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City could be without library services if annexation vote fails

Budget crisis hits our literacy

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Joe Schmoe speaking with Rotary regarding budgets.

It was revealed during Wednesday night's Sunnyside City Council budget workshop the city could very well be without library services if voters fail to pass an annexation measure next year.

With the city facing a $365,290 operating deficit in 2004, City Manager Dave Fonfara has been exploring options to bring before the Council to reduce that amount. One of the options has the Sunnyside public library becoming part of the Yakima Valley Regional Library System. The Sunnyside library would become part of the regional library system if residents approved an annexation measure in March 2004. If approved, residents would pay 50ยข per $1,000 of assessed property value directly to the regional library system to operate the Sunnyside facility. The levy would generate $235,000 in funding for the regional library system. Currently, Sunnyside residents pay nothing directly for the operation of the city library. Rather, money for operation of the library comes from city taxes. Fonfara told Council last night the city would save in the neighborhood of $140,000 if the regional library system took over the Sunnyside facility.

But last night's budget workshop revealed some confusion about funding for the Sunnyside library in 2004 and where the facility would stand in the future if voters failed to pass the annexation measure.

No official funding decisions by the Council will be made until the end of the budget workshops next week.

Monica Weyhe, director of the Yakima Valley Regional Library System, was in attendance at last night's budget workshop. Weyhe told the Council the regional system would take over complete operation of the Sunnyside library in 2005 if the annexation measure passes.

In regards to the 2004 budget, Weyhe provided Council with some statistics regarding the Sunnyside facility.

"We consider it the regional library for the Lower Valley," said Weyhe.

Sunnyside has the second most used library facility in Yakima County, behind Yakima.

In the last 12 months a total of 1,140 people have registered for a library card in Sunnyside. A total of 77 percent of the 8,447 card holders at the facility live in Sunnyside. Six percent of the remaining card holders live in Outlook with another 5 percent living in each community of Grandview and Mabton. The Sunnyside library also has card holders who live in the Upper Valley, said Weyhe.

In 2002, people at the Sunnyside library checked out 70,484 items, ranging from books to videos, up 19 percent from 2001.

Sunnyside also has the newest computer system in the county. On average at least five computers are in use at the Sunnyside library every hour.

The total operating budget in 2004 for the Sunnyside library is $369,825, said Weyhe. The majority of those costs are for personnel, $145,630 for what equates to just under four full-time employees. There is also $98,000 reserved for material purchases in 2004. The regional library system subsidizes the Sunnyside facility.

Weyhe said regional library directors have agreed to hold the fee for the city at its 2003 level of $115,500. The city budgets around $140,000 for the operation of the library, but the $115,000 goes directly to the regional system. The remaining money is used for maintenance and operation of the Sunnyside facility. Weyhe said the regional library has agreed to reduce the city's amount for funding in 2004 by $50,000, but only if the annexation measure passes in March.

City Finance Director Bud Schatz, though, explained to the Council he has already removed the $50,000 from the library's allocation and put it in the current expense fund. Fonfara clarified for the Council he is recommending the city pull the $50,000 from the library regardless of what happens with the annexation vote.

Councilwoman Bengie Aguilar was concerned about whether the library could operate if the city took away the funding. Weyhe said she couldn't say what will happen with less funding. The regional system would be bound to live up to its contract with the city for 2004, but after that, with reduced funding, the future of the library could be in question.

"If the vote fails that means the citizens have voted to not tax themselves for library services," said Weyhe.

Weyhe said if the citizens and the Council opt to not support funding for the library she doesn't see how it could afford to operate after 2005.

Mayor Pro-tem Mike Farmer wanted additional information on how much money the library system would gain from Sunnyside residents if the annexation is approved. Farmer wanted to make sure that Sunnyside residents weren't subsidizing library services for other communities. Weyhe said the library doesn't allocate its funding in that matter.

"We don't dedicate funds," said Weyhe. "Our funding is county wide."

Farmer asked for city staff to provide a report on how much money the library would generate from residents living in Sunnyside and the school district boundaries.

Sunnyside resident Jeff Matson couldn't understand why the Council wants to burden the taxpayers with funding the library directly when the current system is working.

"I am having a hard time understanding why it is a good system for taxpayers," said Matson. "It is a cost increase of $100,000 to the local taxpayers and you guys could do it for half the amount."

. Mike Kantman can be contacted at (509) 837-4500, or email him at mkantman@eaglenewspapers.com

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