City Council seeks additional details about FVRL annexation

Topic will be discussed again at annual planning conference

During an upcoming planning conference, the Camas City Council will continue its discussion about the possibility of annexing the local library into the Fort Vancouver Regional Library District system.

Since the retirement of former Director David Zavortink, city officials have been exploring the impacts the action might have on library finances and employees, as well as on service levels.

Options currently on the table include remaining an independent library and starting the search for a new director, considering annexation (requiring action by the council to send the issue to a public vote); or contracting with FVRL for some services.

City Administrator Pete Capell and FVRL Executive Director Amelia Shelley spoke to the City Council about the issue during a Jan. 4 workshop.

Capell described the potential financial impact to taxpayers of joining the FVRL district as neutral.

Because Camas operates its own municipal library, it is allowed by law to increase its tax rate by up to 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. The funding, which hasn’t quite reached that ceiling, is used to operate the library and fund support services provided to the library by other city departments. In comparison, FVRL charges its ratepayers 47 cents per $1,000.

“The financial impact to the taxpayer would be negligible,” Capell said. “It would just be about the same.”

Listed among the benefits to joining FVRL were access to the library system’s larger collection, multiple copies of best sellers, technology and homebound delivery service. In addition, if operated by the FVRL the Camas library could offer Sunday hours and longer hours of operation during the week.

Currently, through a shared services agreement Camas patrons have access to FVRL library catalog software and computer reservation systems, and reciprocal borrowing privileges.

The city does not currently pay a fee for this service, but FVRL officials are looking into changing that.

“Fort Vancouver is spending a significant amount of money to serve us, and we are not paying our share at this point,” Capell said.

According to Shelley, the estimated cost of this service to FVRL in 2013 was $26,000, but there is no formula that currently exists for determining an exact number.

“Our agreement dates back to 1998, and it in no way describes our current relationship,” she said. “We would be very conscious of the relationship going forward. I think it fell apart somewhere in mid-2000. Part of the bone of contention is we were borrowing a fair amount of materials from you, and [it needed to be determined] how to make that fair and equitable. We will figure that out.”

Listed among the drawbacks of annexing into the FVRL were a loss of local control, uncertainty regarding the future of the Second Story Gallery and adjoining meeting rooms; and loss of the library’s financial support to the city’s finance, human resources and information technology departments.

Another negative, some library employees could find themselves experiencing a significant reduction in pay, due to a change in job classification that would come with being part of the FVRL.

Capell said he has told the library’s employees, who are currently part of the Office & Professional Employees International Union, Local 11/AFL-CIO, that if Camas does join the FVRL District efforts would be made to retain all current Camas employees either at the Camas library or another FVRL library.

“Associates might have more job opportunities available, but currently the salary ranges for associates in Camas are higher than what we saw from comparable positions in Fort Vancouver,” he said. “Professional staff, the people with master’s degrees, have pretty similar opportunities and salary ranges.”

The library has 14.3 full-time equivalent employees, and 2015-16 budget of $2.78 million.

Councilwoman Shannon Turk requested additional information about the financial ramifications, and impacts to employees.

“I’m not ready to give direction on which one of those three options, just yet,” she said. “It seems like we need more information to know which way.”

Councilman Tim Hazen indicated that he is leaning toward keeping Camas an independent library, but will listen to additional details on the issue.

“It’s going to be difficult for me to move off of the local control,” he said. “I like what we’ve been able to do with the library. Releasing that control scares me a little bit — just because it’s change, I guess. But I like what we have and I think we’d be able to grow it. But I’m open to hearing more about the individual ideas that were expressed.”

Shelley said the FVRL works to give its branch libraries and their employees opportunities to tailor their programs and services to the individual communities they serve.

“I think if you asked people in those communities they’d tell you exactly what you’re saying about your library,” she said. “I don’t think being part of Fort Vancouver necessarily takes that from them or robs them of a sense of community for their facility. We make a real effort to make sure communities are involved in their libraries.”

The future direction of the local library will be discussed again during the second day of the Camas City Council planning conference, Saturday, Jan. 30, at Lacamas Lake Lodge, 227 N.E. Lake Road.