Citizens to vote April 26 on annexing into King County Library District

Enumclaw voters will decide in April if they want to transfer operation of their public library, which has been in the city's hands since 1922, to the King County Library System.

The idea of shifting control to the independent library district has floated around City Hall for a couple of years, since ever-tightening budgets have resulted in library funding being slashed. Hours of operation have dipped, employee hours have been cut and, this year, there was no money allotted for purchasing new materials.

During Monday night's regularly-scheduled session, members of the council heard of two clear-cut options:

• let city voters decide if they want to be annexed into the countywide system, which carries a tax assessment of 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value – $150 annually on a $300,000 property.

• continue operating the library on a shoestring budget and hope things will eventually get better.

There was concern expressed that additional options have not been fully explored.

Before the council debated the library issue, the public had an opportunity to weigh in. Nine citizens stepped to the podium, with six encouraging the council to keep the library in local hands. Two spoke in favor of KCLS operation and another told the council there simply hasn't been enough study done to make an informed decision.

Councilman Sean Krebs voted against authorizing the April 26 vote, suggesting the process was moving too quickly and complaining that not enough detail has been made available. A formal transfer agreement, which will address crucial details concerning the KCLS takeover, has not been hammered out, he said.

City Administrator Mike Thomas assured everyone the agreement will be finalized in time for voters to make an informed decision on April 26.

Councilman Jeff Beckwith admitted to having "very strong feelings" for the city library, but spoke of the county district's deeper pockets.

"They have the expertise and the resources to move what we have here a lot further along," he said.

Councilman Jim Hogan pointed out that the council wasn't in the position to order any change in the way the library does business. The only decision facing the council, he said, was whether Enumclaw's citizens should have the right to decide the library's fate.

It was, he said, a case of "democracy at its finest."

The city will now inform King County that it wishes to place the library annexation issue on the April 26 ballot. If the measure passes, the King County Library System will look to take over the following month. The pertinent details will be spelled out in the transfer agreement but the tentative word is that all employees would be retained, the city would maintain ownership of the building and land and library hours would be expanded from 43 hours per week to 63.

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