Ballots for the April 17 special election are being mailed today, Wednesday, March 28, putting the question to Enumclaw voters if the city library should be annexed to the King County Library System (KCLS).
The issue comes down to money. The city of Enumclaw has in the past several years continued to reduce funding for library services while struggling to find money to support other core services like police and streets.
The Argument for 'Yea' on Annexation
In 2008, the library budget sat at $584,087 and even increased in 2009 to $650,834. In 2011, it came down to $422,454 and this year through a one-time funding source, the city allocated just $350,000 to the library.
During a , then library director Bob Baer told the public that there was no budget for materials in 2011. "...the last two years have been very hard on the library," he said. "We've lost staff, budget and hours of service. ...I don't see that we have the choice of not doing anything. The community is going to have to come to some decision."
By year-end, the library in fact lost two full-time staff members, librarian and , himself, to attrition.
All told, the library this year is open just 36 hours a week.
The prospect of having KCLS, a library system that was named by Library Journal in 2011 as Library of the Year, taking over not only operations but the financial management of the Enumclaw library sounded understandably good to many.
The city, which didn't even fund the library this year out of the general fund, would no longer shoulder this particular financial burden. According to the Pro statement in favor of annexation that runs with the voter pamphlet, KCLS would be able to run the library building with proper staffing, books, periodicals and up-to-date computers up to 60 hours a week. In comparison, the city has no money to purchase books, media, periodical subscriptions or update its computer capacity.
KCLS would retain the city's current library staff and provide them with career opportunities, the statement continued. The Library Advisory Board gets to stay put in its role advising KCLS and the city gets to keep control of its endowment funds.
If annexation isn't approved, said the Pro argument, the city library will close.
The Pro statement was written by Rich Elfers, Richard E. Hughes and Barbara Braun. Elfers and Hughes currently serve on the Library Board.
Misleading, Says 'Nay' Proponents
In fact, the city council has not spoken about its intent if annexation does not pass, according to city administrator Mike Thomas. ()
But without a fall-back plan if annexation fails, it does leave many wondering if the city really is out of money and so it's KCLS or nothing. The 'Save our Library' campaign signs in support of annexation into KCLS that are now appearing around town has prompted confusion, according to Library Board Chair JoAn McKinlay, who helped to write the voter pamphlet's Con statement.
"I've had three people call me thinking it was ours," she said. "They don't read beyond 'save our library.' ... "They're making people believe that's what's going to happen. We don't know that."
Fred Fleishmann, a former Library Board member, wrote in a recent letter to The Courier-Herald that the city leadership "simply want nothing more to do with a city-operated library, and their threats that the only other option is to close the library are just that -- threats."
The voter pamphlet's Con rebuttal asserted that city funds are available and if necessary, the city can tax less than KCLS's 50 cents per $1,000 assessed value levy to property fund the library.
According to The Courier-Herald, when council approved Resolution 1449 at its March 12 meeting clarifying it would not be reducing the property tax rate if annexation occurs, Councilman Sean Krebs asked that a section of the resolution stating "due to financial constraints the City is no longer able to provide sufficient funding to operate a municipal library" be removed.
Krebs said it was the decision of the council to not fund the library and to fund other services instead, said the article.
It still leaves a question of what happens if annexation fails. McKinlay said that at the board's last meeting, member Jim Barchek expressed that if the annexation doesn't pass, a city levy increase will be needed. Fellow member Rich Elfers indicated the city won't even consider it. "All I know is I hate politics and I'm right in the middle of it," she said.
The Con statement was written by Charles Sansone, JoAn McKinlay and Una Walron. Sansone and McKinlay served on the Library Board at the time the statements were written.