by Matt Rosenberg March 22nd, 2011
SUMMARY: Puyallup’s city-run library has suffered deep cuts and can’t keep up with customer service demands so the city is being urged by local library officials to examine contracting with or annexing to the larger, regional Pierce County Library System. At a study session tonight, city council members will review a range of possible new approaches to sustain the library and a recommendation to advance a cost-benefit study of joining with the county. Preliminary analysis shows the county system has lower per-capita operating costs, longer hours and a far richer collection.
BACKGROUND: More than a decade ago, voters in the city of Puyallup, south of Seattle and east of Tacoma in Pierce County, Wash., approved bonds to construct a new library. But now the recession has tightened city revenues and necessitated a large reduction in the library budget including building maintenance, staff, hours, services and materials. A major community survey shows citizens want more library resources but library officials say that “we are unable to deliver what the public is asking for and are now at a crossroads…” At a study session tonight, the City Council will review a preliminary analysis of policy options prepared by staff and a request for further study of one strategy.
“Funding Options For Washington Municipal Public Libraries,” Puyallup City Council, March 22, 2011
“Exploring Contracting Or Annexing Services Of Puyallup Public Library To Pierce County Library System,” Puyallup City Council, March 22, 2011
- Up to six different approaches are possible to better secure the fiscal future of the City of Puyallup’s library. State law permitting formation of rural library districts could be amended to allow new municipal library districts if approved by local voters and to set taxing authority. Or state law allowing city park districts could be amended so any city, county or portion of either could form its own library district. Both would decrease the city’s overall tax rate; and, it can’t be raised more than one percent annually under existing law.
- Another approach: the state could grant authority for a local-option sales tax cities could use, with voter approval, to fund under-resourced services. But it would compete with many other interests and would be unlikely to gain support given the economy and voter fatigue with new tax measures. Alternatively, voters could approve a modest tax levy lid lift subject to periodic renewal, or the Mayor and City Council could shift some funds from dedicated accounts to the General Fund to support library and other services.
- The preliminarily preferred option, pending further analysis: the city could contract with or annex to the regional Pierce County Library System, something already permitted under state law. The city council or voters could authorize this move.
- Data gathered by city staff show that compared to the Puyallup Library, the Pierce County Library System is able to spend twice as great a proportion of its budget and twice as much per capita on library materials, and has a total collection of almost 1.4 million items versus 140,347. The budgeted 2011 per-capita library operating costs of the county’s system are 13.6 percent lower than Puyallup’s. Typical weekly hours at a PCLS branch number eight more than at Puyallup’s facility.
- PCLS already serves an unincorporated portion of the Puyallup community at its South Hill facility.
- Numerous questions would have to be answered through further study before city council would either opt for or ask voters to approve contracting with or annexing to PCLS. A key concern is confirming how service levels, outreach programs, hours and collections would compare between the current local facility and one operated by PCLS. Another issue is whether annexing or contracting would be revenue neutral for local residents.
- The Puyallup city Library Board recommends the City Council authorize creation of a citizens advisory group to help oversee a joint city-PCLS study on the costs and benefits of the city contracting with or annexing to the county’s library system.