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Voters being asked to maintain Sunnyside's quality of life

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Zulema Guranados of Sunnyside takes advantage of the computer lab the local library offers.

A library is an important piece of any community. It serves as a place to gather information, peruse different magazines and newspapers, offers a wide selection of reading materials and can also be a site from which to search for your favorite musical group on the internet. According to Yakima Valley Regional Library Director Monica Weyhe, libraries play such an important role in a community that realtors often include information on libraries, alongside information on public schools when talking to perspective home buyers.

"It brings a quality of life to the community," Weyhe said.

That quality of life in Sunnyside is currently being threatened. Voters are being asked to approve a ballot measure on March 9 that if approved, will annex the local library into the Yakima Valley Regional Library system. A yes vote, in effect, will keep the doors to the local library open.

The Sunnyside Public Library currently contracts with the Yakima Valley Regional Library for library services and materials. The City of Sunnyside owns the library building. But, it is the regional library system that provides staff members, computers and other materials, such as the summer reading program, for the local site.

The city currently pays $115,000 annually to the Yakima Valley Regional Library for its services. If the annexation proposal passes it will go into effect January 2005, and the regional library will reduce the annual fee for 2004 to $65,000, which is the amount set aside for the library in the city's 2004 budget.

However, it costs more than the annual fee of $115,000 a year to operate the Sunnyside library. According to Yakima Valley Regional Library officials, in 2004 it will cost approximately $369,825 to operate the local library, which includes the cost of staff members, supplies and children's services. Besides the $115,000 paid by the city, much of the money to operate the Sunnyside Public Library is collected from people living in the unincorporated areas of Yakima County, whose residents pay 49.6¢ per $1,000 of assessed property value.

Other local communities that have annexed into and are now part of the Rural Library District include Toppenish, Wapato, Zillah, Harrah and Moxee. The communities of Buena, Nile, Terrace Heights and White Swan are part of the Rural Library District because they are located in the unincorporated areas of Yakima County.

Weyhe explained that just outside the Sunnyside city limits county residents are already paying the Rural Library District rate of 49.6¢ per $1,000 of assessed property value. This is the rate Sunnyside city residents will pay if voters approve the annexation of the Sunnyside Public Library into the Yakima Valley Regional Library system on March 9.

"Your neighbors are already paying at the library levy rate," Weyhe said.

She said the annexation will give the Sunnyside library a more stable source of funding, as well as provide for some improvements to the local facility. She said upon the annexation of the Sunnyside library, there will likely be more funds available to put into things such as the library's infrastructure, books and other services the local facility offers.

Currently, the library serves 2,437 people who have been issued library cards, and offers services ranging from internet access to research assistance. The Sunnyside facility offers a vast collection of fiction and non-fiction books for the entire family, as well as large print and Spanish language selections. Kay Saunders, Sunnyside librarian, said the local facility also offers a variety of services, including internet classes in English and Spanish, story time for small children, a summer reading program for all ages, books on tape and CD, as well as musical cassettes and CDs and movies, both fiction and non-fiction for all ages.

Saunders said the local library also offers those who visit a chance to glance through an array of newspapers and magazines, as well as a chance to seek help from five library staff members.

"They are a rich source of local information," Saunders said.

For local resident Pat Kezele, Friends of the Library chairman, having access to a library facility like the one offered in Sunnyside is important. She said libraries are public places that are used by everyone, no matter their age.

"The public library is for all ages," Weyhe said.

Weyhe explained that the Sunnyside Public Library was founded in 1911 with a Carnegie Grant. She said the reason Andrew Carnegie set up the grants was because he felt libraries were the "people's university."

"I have always felt it was a community building," said Sunnyside resident Bettie Filicetti during a recent meeting of the Friends of the Library Committee. "Can you imagine the community without the library?" asked Bettie's husband, Frank Filicetti.

For Beatrice and Jose A. Villanueva, who live next door to the library, having the facility in such close proximity was a perk while they raised their children.

"It was nice for them to go over and do their homework at the library," Beatrice said.

The Villanuevas, Filicettis and Kezele make up a group of approximately 35 committee members who are working to distribute information about the upcoming annexation election.

Weyhe said in order for the annexation measure to pass it must be approved by voters with a simple majority, which means 50 percent plus one person.

Kezele explained that if the ballot measure does not pass, Sunnyside residents will lose access to library services.

"People in the city will not be able to get a regional card," Kezele said.

Weyhe said if voters do not approve the annexation there will not be enough tax base to continue operation of the Sunnyside library. She said at a cost of 49.6¢ per $1,000 of assessed property value, a person with a $100,000 home will pay $49.60 a year to the Rural Library District. She said if the ballot measure passes that equals out to roughly $4 a month.

"I hope that they will see the value in that," Weyhe said.

She said the Sunnyside library is considered the regional library center of the Lower Valley.

"It's really an important center," Weyhe said. "It's hard to think about such a busy regional center closing."

Sunnyside residents will have a chance to voice their opinion on the library annexation Tuesday, March 9, in the special election. Those residents voting absentee must mail in their ballot between Feb. 18 and March 9.

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