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UPDATED: Council shoots down de-annexation from KCLS

Library FYI -
Library FYI
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Renton is still part of the King County Library System ... for now.

After a 90-minute Committee of the Whole discussion and nine comments from the public, the Renton City Council on Monday essentially rejected a de-annexation vote, but due to procedural issues, the council chose to pull it from the agenda rather than vote it down.

However, the council was unanimous in discussion that de-annexation from KCLS was not the right move at this time.

The motion was brought forward as a means of discussion to allow the council to look at all possible options regarding KCLS and the rebuilding of two libraries in the city.

During a presentation at the meeting, the administration advised against de-annexation.

"We looked and worked through this issue and I can tell you at this current time the administration doesn't see benefits to withdrawal," City Administrator Jay Covington said.

Covington's presentation included a brief how-we-got-here recap and offered four concerns the administration has with de-annexation: Level of service drop, serving the Cascade-Benson Hill area, increase costs from construction delays and the budget impacts of withdrawal.

The annexation discussion began in 2007, according to Covington, after the city annexed the Benson Hill area. A Library Master Plan was created that provided two options: Either improve services in the city system or annex into KCLS. The City Council opted for annexation.

In 2009 a pre-annexation agreement was struck with KCLS that transferred all library resources, materials and staff to KCLS in the event of annexation.

In February 2010 Renton voters approved annexation by the razor-thin margin of 53 votes. In March 2010 KCLS officially took over as the city's library service provider.

In the "level of service" part of his presentation, Covington highlighted many of the additional benefits of being part of the larger district, including increased hours of operation – including being open on Sundays – access to a larger collection of items, eBooks and myriad others, including the Library-2-Go! mobile van, the summer reading program, resume´ help and tutoring.

He also said that prior to KCLS taking over, the downtown library's meeting room was being used as storage space; but since joining the larger district, the items stored there were moved off-site, thereby opening up the room for meeting space.

"There's a lot of services KCLS is providing that were not provided in 2010," Covington said. "It would be, in our minds, very difficult for us in a city-contained system to approach this level of service."

Covington also cited the Cascade/Benson Hill service area, which was part of KCLS and used the Fairwood library until the area annexed into Renton. At that time, they became part of Renton's system and service would have to be provided to that neighborhood if KCLS was not involved.

Covington's final reason, the budget concerns, were among those that led to the annexation to begin with. Covington reminded the council that following the annexation vote in 2010, all library materials, staff and other items were transferred to KCLS, meaning de-annexation would leave Renton with the building and that's it.

So if Renton were to de-annex, it would have to find money not only to run the library agin, but also to re-purchase the collection. Covington said it was money the city simply doesn't have.

"There is no money sitting around," he told the council.

Covington also said that while the city had a reciprocal agreement with KCLS that allowed Renton users to access KCLS materials, he did not know if such an agreement could be worked out again and added that the cost of that agreement was one of the reason they annexed into KCLS in the first place.

Covington also called it "incongruent" that the city would want to de-annex because they were not happy with the services and then turn around and try to contract with KCLS for those very services they were supposedly unhappy with.

Covington also said the discussion in the city appears to be about the design process and not the services provided by KCLS, which was why they annexed into the district to begin with. Covington later said the design process was in the "bottom of the third inning" and that he was confident KCLS would provide designs the citizens could be happy with.

Following Covington's presentation, Council President Randy Corman said he thought this discussion "spiraled a little further than I intended." Corman said he brought up the option of de-annexation because he was hearing that the city had no options and he wanted to point out they did. But he also said he was "hopeful" the design situation could be worked out and did not think the de-annexation motion should be voted on until at least after next week's presentation from KCLS.

Councilwoman Marcie Palmer, who has been a vocal supporter of the Save the Cedar River Library … Again! group, agreed that no decision should be made Monday because of next week's presentation.

"This seems out of order to me," she said, calling de-annexation one of the tools Renton should take into negotiations with KCLS.

Councilman Greg Taylor called de-annexation a "self-inflicted mistake," but  reiterated that he was unhappy with KCLS regarding the designs for the downtown library.

"I don't feel like we have our community's backs in this fight," he said.

He also stated that the timing was not right from a "strategic standpoint" to have an up-or-down vote on this issue.

Councilwoman Terri Briere said she was "duly impressed" with the services being provided by KCLS, which she said were "far higher" than those the city could provide.

Briere also said the original library building has been renovated multiple times since it was built and said the prospect of a "more contemporary" and "classier" building over the river was exciting.

When the motion came up, however, the council opted to vote to simply remove it from the agenda and close discussion of the topic rather then voting it down.

Councilmen Rich Zwicker and Don Persson argued that the council should bring the measure to a vote and simply vote it down, since all seven council members were obviously opposed to putting it on the ballot.

Persson said it was unfair to KCLS to be left in limbo.

"I don't think we should go past tonight without making a decision on de-annexation," he said.

Zwicker agreed, going so far as to call de-annexation a "ridiculous idea."

"Service drives de-annexation," Zwicker said. "Service is excellent."

Councilman Ed Prince agreed the council should focus on the designs and use their power to shape the designs since the interlocal agreement requires the council approval, instead of playing a "game of chicken" regarding de-annexation.

In the end, the council voted unanimously to remove the item from the agenda and stated the matter was closed and there would be no further action from the council.

The council may re-visit de-annexation at any time.

KCLS is scheduled to present a new design to the council at the April 15 meeting. The council will review and make a determination on the designs April 29. The April 22 meeting was canceled.

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