Former Enumclaw City Councilman Rich Elfers who is leading the 'Yes' to annexation campaign had a good point when he commented looking at the arguments for and against annexation () that we heard from the one city leader in Renton who was opposed to annexation, Marcie Palmer, and no one else from the Renton City Council.
With only a few days left until election day on April 17, most of the arguments on both sides have been aired, but for the sake of completion, Patch would like to contribute a coda of sorts to this symphonic dialogue about the library. Spurred on by Mr. Elfers' observation, we've spoken with current Renton City Councilman Don Persson as well as former Councilman King Parker for their perspective on annexing into KCLS.
Some of the discussion will resonate with Enumclaw voters -- the Renton City Council opted not to ask voters if they'd like to increase city taxes to maintain local libraries before putting annexation on the ballot.
Some not so much -- Enumclaw's transfer agreement makes no mention of the imminent construction of a new library (unlike Renton), and the city covered the possibility that if the library building is no longer used as a library it would return to city ownership.
Which ever way you're leaning, if you want a breather from the internal back-and-forth, take a minute and see what's going on just a few cities north.
Annexation was Right Direction
Both Persson and Parker voted for annexation and still maintain it was the right thing for Renton to annex to KCLS. Both men confirmed that the city never went to voters first and asked if they'd like to pay more taxes to fund keeping the city's two libraries locally controlled. That was a point of contention for their colleague, Palmer, who said many voters thought the only option to keep the libraries open was to annex.
Why not ask to raise city taxes? Persson recalled that the council was weighing how to pay for the care of a variety of city services such as pools and parks that many people expected the city to keep up. In struggling to define how the city would maintain residents' quality of life, he said, it would have had to close the library or at least severely reduce the hours of service in the meantime. "We weren't ready to put a whole ballot issue together [asking for a city tax increase] and we were also struggling with the fact of the ongoing cost," he said. "The best way to keep going was to join KCLS."
Parker referenced a cross-use analysis between Renton city libraries and KCLS that found more Renton library users were also using KCLS services than the other way around so the city was paying more to KCLS for that cross-use agreement. "That cost differential would be too much to continue the library," he said, so annexation made sense from a budget perspective.
Palmer discounted the validity of the cross-use finding; she said two studies were actually done and the first time showed KCLS owed money to Renton as in there were more KCLS users coming to Renton for library services than the other way around. It wasn't until KCLS requested a second study which found that Renton owed more than $200,000 to KCLS that "we were told that's not sustainable," she said.
The timeline of the studies Palmer references isn't clear though Parker said, "that's not the information I received."
Persson provided a more historical context on the cross-use agreement which first came about in the 70s. "In those days, the city made money because more King County residents were using our library services," he said. Since then, both Renton's population as well as KCLS got bigger. KCLS was building more libraries closer and more convenient to Renton residents -- in Newcastle, Fairwood and Kent, for instance. By the time it annexed into KCLS, Renton was paying around $300,000 a year in cross usage fees (Persson also emphasized this was an estimate only).
Editor's Note: For Enumclaw, Patch came across numbers from May 2011 that found the circulation of Enumclaw library users to KCLS and vice versa were about equal (2,412 Enumclaw users to KCLS and 2,431 KCLS users to Enumclaw).
If 'No' Had Won
Persson said if Renton voters had rejected the annexation, the city would have gone back to the drawing board to decide what happened next. "We spent two years with just this subject getting to a point where there was a decision to put it to the ballot. If they [voters] said no, then we would have taken a look at other options. But while we were looking at that we would have most likely been this year closed, at least at the Highlands library. We would have laid a lot of library employees off."
The council would probably have found a way to keep the libraries open, he said, "but most likely at a greatly reduced level unless there was a decision of the people."
However, thanks to annexing into KCLS, those decisions didn't need to be made. "Every one of our library employees at that time got a job with KCLS. No one lost their jobs, but they would have if we didn't take this action."
Jobs were saved, and according to Parker, KCLS brought in facility improvements as well including carpet and furniture replacement, reorganization and more computer stations that totalled close to $1 million (he emphasized that was a ballpark estimate). Circulation at the Highlands branch increased by 40 percent, he said. "They have offered a significant number of improvements."
The facility enhancements were a part of the transfer agreement between Renton and KCLS. According to Parker, there was more in that agreement, including the building of two new libraries: one downtown and one in the Highlands. "The sites were not specifically stated at the time of the election," Parker said, and that in part has led to the ongoing debate over the downtown Renton library in particular (See coverage on Renton Patch).
Communication in 20/20 Hindsight
Both Parker and Persson agree that voters were not as informed as they should have been about the details of the transfer that came with annexation, which passed by just 53 votes (see Seattle Times article).
However, Parker said the issue was outlined clearly for voters: there would be two new libraries that came with annexation. "How can you possibly not think you did everything right?" he said. "Whatever the case is, our level of communication could have been better, obviously."
Persson, similarly, said he thought the issue was clear to voters who had told him they wouldn't be supporting annexation because they didn't want increased property taxes to fund the construction of those libraries. In fact, he thought annexation wouldn't pass because of that. "While all the information was available when the issue was on the ballot, we should have done a better job of highlighting that 'new' meant moving from the current locations."
No Service Complaints in Renton
While there is much discussion over moving the downtown library, "Nobody is complaining about the service they're getting from KCLS," Persson said. "That's never been an issue since we've annexed. KCLS has pumped money into our library system with more computers we couldn't afford to do."
The downtown move is necessary, said Parker, who was told by KCLS that branch lost 71,000 in circulation in one year and "in its present state and location does not allow for maximum possibilities for future growth."
Meanwhile at the Highlands branch, "people are ecstatic they're getting a new library," Persson said.
Read more from Renton:
- (April 5, 2012)
- (Feb. 28, 2011)