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Sunnyside residents asked to tax themselves for library costs

The fate of the Sunnyside Library is up to the voters living within the city limits.

The Sunnyside City Council has chosen to let the voters decide what to do with the library.

A group of Sunnyside residents attended a public forum Wednesday night to discuss the upcoming levy, which will ask voters in Sunnyside on March 9 if they want to be annexed into the Yakima Valley Regional Library system.

In the past the city has contracted with the Yakima Valley Regional Library system for services. In the agreement the city has paid $115,000 annually and has maintain the library building in exchange for services. The $115,000 is about one-third the amount it costs to operate the Sunnyside library, according to Monica Weyhe, director of the regional library system. She said in 2003, it cost $370,000 to operate the Sunnyside library. The rest of the money to operate the local library comes from unincorporated areas, whose residents pay 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value, as well as from residents paying taxes in other Valley towns. The 50 cents assessed by the library is a capped amount that can only be increased with a county-wide polling of the voters. Weyhe said at this time she is not in favor of increasing the amount assessed to taxpayers due to the economic situation of the county.

During the budget sessions in the fall of 2003, the Sunnyside City Council passed a resolution to have the library issue put up for a vote, according to acting city manager Mark Kunkler.

Currently, the city pays for library contract services, which equals to about 25 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. But because of financial reasons the Council is asking citizens to take on the responsibility of paying for library services themselves.

"There is no question that the library is a valuable service to the community," said Kunkler. "The library is one of those services we think is crucial."

In the past, the library has been paid for through tax monies levied from property owners.

"We request each year the county adopt a property tax levy," said Kunkler. "We take those proceeds and we allocate $115,000 for the library."

The $115,000 currently being paid for the library contract will most likely go back into the current expense fund, according to Kunkler.

If the annexation is approved, the Yakima Valley Regional Library district will give the city of Sunnyside a $50,000 credit this year, according to Weyhe. The money would come out of library district reserve funds.

Rather than waiting to see if the vote passes, the Council reduced the amount budgeted to the library in 2004 to $65,000.

Since 2000, when funds started tightening on small towns across the Lower Valley, Wapato, Toppenish and Zillah voters have voted in favor of annexing into the regional library system, according to Weyhe.

She said by annexing Sunnyside into the regional system, the library district would double the amount of money it receives from Sunnyside residents for library services.

She said from the library's point-of-view the $115,000 paid by the city for contract services has not been sufficient for some time.

"It's been a matter of time before we came to this point," said Weyhe.

Kunkler added that the Sunnyside City Council believes that by annexing, the library district will be best served.

Voting 'yes' for the annexation in the Yakima Valley Regional Library system will increase the number of books, classes, videos and services provided at the Sunnyside library, according to Weyhe. She added that there are plans to upgrade and enhance the facility, which will be turned over to the library district as a part of the annexation.

"We think this is the bustling center of the Lower Valley," said Weyhe of the Sunnyside library, which is the second most used library in the system. "We want to sink money into this library."

A "yes" vote will add a tax to property owners of 50 cents per 1,000 of assessed value. For a home assessed at $150,000, the additional tax will be $75 per year.

If voters choose not to support annexation, then what happens to the library is still unsure.

According to Weyhe, the Sunnyside library cannot operate on the $65,000 the city will pay to the regional system this year.

"We couldn't afford to staff that building for that amount of money," said Weyhe.

She said for $65,000 a community could possibly have a reading room type library or an interhome exchange.

Both she and Kunkler said there are no contingency plans for a "no" vote.

"If the vote does not pass we don't know if the city council will step up and pay the other $50,000," said Weyhe.

A political action committee was formed after the public forum ended last night to begin strategizing on how to support the library services in the community.

Sunnyside property owner Bill Flower is heading up the committee, which will begin officially meeting next week.

. Melissa Browning can be contacted at (509) 837-4500, or e-mail mbrowning@eaglenewspapers.com

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