Sunnyside library patrons won't have to retire their Yakima Regional Library System cards after all. Tuesday, Sunnyside voters approved the library annexation proposal with an overwhelming 77 percent "yes" vote.
Friends of the Library, the group supporting the Sunnyside library annexation into the regional system, are breathing a collective sigh of relief this morning. Had the vote gone the other way, city residents would not have been able to access the regional system.
"We are proud of the citizens of Sunnyside who voted in favor of the annexation," said Pat Kezele, who shared the chairmanship of the friends group with Bill Flower.
She said she was surprised at the low number of registered voters who actually voted on the matter. "But I'm glad the ones who did vote were in favor of the annexation," Kezele said.
According to the Yakima County Election Department, 673 of the city's 3,228 registered voters punched "yes" on their ballots, while 196 voters cast "no" votes.
Most of the ballots cast in Tuesday's election were cast via absentee ballot, with only 128 persons showing up at the two Sunnyside polling places.
Sunnyside voters cast 741 absentee ballots, which were mailed to voters in late February.
"I think Sunnyside residents couldn't imagine their community without the library services of the current standard," Kezele said. "I sure couldn't."
"The "yes" vote shows they have their priorities set on learning and continuing education," she added.
"It's wonderful," agreed John Saras, the long-time chair of the city-appointed Sunnyside Public Library Board.
"But I wasn't worried," he said of Tuesday's vote.
"Our citizens know a good thing when they see it," he said.
The voters' approval of the merging with the regional library system means Saras and his fellow board members will soon be out of a job.
He said the five local library board members were appointed by the Sunnyside mayor to serve as an advisory board. With the annexation, the Sunnyside library will become part of the regional system in 2005. "Our library will be governed by the regional board," Saras explained.
Currently, Sunnyside's Cloe Garrison and Melba Fujiura serve on the regional library board.
"We're thrilled that Sunnysiders voted in support of the annexation," said Monica Weyhe, executive director of the regional library system. "It shows the community's support for the library and its value," she said. "
"It's great news," agreed Mike Kunkler, Sunnyside's interim city manager.
"My hats off to the Friends of the Library and the local library board for their work and support of the annexation," Kunkler said.
Kezele said the Friends of the Library began promoting the annexation vote immediately after the February Sunnyside School District bond and levy vote.
"We didn't want to confuse voters with the two measures, especially when it came to increasing their property taxes," she explained.
Tuesday's annexation vote will raise taxpayers' property taxes by nearly 50¢ per $1,000 assessed valuation.
"It's a win-win situation for the residents," said Sunnyside Mayor Pro-tem Mike Farmer.
Farmer said he had no doubts the voters would vote in favor of the annexation. "The library is a pretty important asset to the community," he said.
Farmer said even if the voters had chosen to turn down the annexation, he felt sure the city council wouldn't have abandoned the library.
"We would have found funds to retain the library services, somehow," Farmer said.
"But with the voters' approval, the transfer of library services to the regional system frees up funds for other city projects," he said.