Cuts impact Whitman County Libraries

Library director discusses the negative effects of decreased budget, hopes for renewal of funds.

MARCO MCCRAY, Evergreen reporter

Faced with recent budget cuts, Whitman County Libraries are seeking a higher levy rate.

Because of tax initiatives, the funding for Whitman County Libraries is limited to 1 percent of the county’s public funding annually. This causes the library’s levy rate to drop over time, according to its website.

In the past, the Whitman County Libraries have levied 50 cents for every $1,000 of assessed property value of the residences of Whitman County. The current levy rate is 46 cents, and the 4-cent decrease this year is necessary for small libraries like the ones in Whitman County, according to the Whitman County Library’s website.

The difference between a 50-cent and 46-cent levy rate annually is equal to the costs of keeping two library branches operational, according to the website. A resident of Whitman County with a home valued at $150,000 would see a $6 annual increase in fees if the levy were reset to 50 cents.

The impact of Whitman County Libraries on the community has led to increased costs as they attempt to accommodate a growing demographic, Library Director Kristie Kirkpatrick said. The Whitman County Libraries are faced with new expenses, like the increasing minimum wage in Washington and providing Wi-Fi and downloadable eBooks to the community.

“We really make a difference in people’s lives,” Kirkpatrick said. “Libraries help people improve their lives either, educationally or just making their day better.”

The Whitman County Library system includes 14 separate branches throughout the county, according to its website.

The branches offer a variety of classes, workshops and activities to people of all ages, Kirkpatrick said. One of the most popular services is the Whitman County Rural Heritage collection.

Some library-hosted events include classes on robotics, software programing, community enrichment and after-school math clubs, Kirkpatrick said. Community enrichment sessions involve discussion of plans for bettering Whitman County as a whole, like fundraising projects and community-oriented activities.

Kirkpatrick emphasized that because the separate branches have so many different activities involving such a variety of topics, there is something at Whitman County Libraries for everyone.

The libraries have seen a 40 percent increase in participation at these events over the past decade, Kirkpatrick said, and the majority of the increase has come from adults.

She said it is important for the voters to know that the libraries have already cut all the expenses they can without cutting open hours to the public or community programs.

Kirkpatrick has been the library director for 20 years, but her work with the organization began 10 years earlier.

“Pretty much there are no good choices left,” Kirkpatrick said regarding the next move if the levy-rate isn’t restored. “We’d probably have to come back to the voters again and ask for funding.”

Kirkpatrick explained how she believes the Whitman County Libraries help with economic development as well. For example, they provide workshops and training seminars for people in Whitman County who are interested in starting their own business.

The separate branches also assist these people with contacting necessary resources. Library space is available for rent to those interested in teaching other classes.

Kirkpatrick said they hope for the levy renewal to be set in February.