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The Salt Lake County Library System is offering West Valley residents continued access to an extensive library network along with a big, new library in the Hunter area by 1996, according to county officials.

If the city hurries, it could develop its own library by 1995, those officials added, but the cost would be higher and the service level lower than most people think.The county's arguments were presented to the West Valley City Council this week in response to a report criticizing the county library and suggesting that the city could do the job better itself.

The city report expressed dissatisfication with the West Valley Branch Library at 2880 W. 3650 South, saying, "West Valley City residents and taxpayers deserve library books and materials of a much higher quality than they are presently receiving."

It said many of the books at the branch library are old and in disrepair, the building is too small (13,619 square feet), parking is inadequate and services are deficient.

The city could build its own 24,000-square-foot library for about $4 million and fund its operations with the $1.2 million in taxes that residents currently pay into the county library system, the report said.

In an eight-page letter to city administrators, County Library Director Eileen B. Longsworth said the cost and revenue estimates - which indicate that a city library could be built and operated without a tax increase - are "questionable."

"I think you have significantly underestimated the costs," she said, arguing that city officials failed to take administrative overhead expenses and the necessary staffing into account.

Longsworth said the operation and maintenance of the proposed city library would cost "hundreds of thousands of dollars" more than the estimates. Also, she said a three-acre site would be too small.

"We typically would put this size library on at least a four-acre site, and in Sandy have insisted on five acres with additional parking nearby," she said.

The new, 27,000-square-foot Sandy library cost $6.6 million, excluding land, Longsworth noted. The Sandy branch was built following an extensive public debate over whether that city should drop out of the county library system.

Longsworth said, "In Sandy, when the amount of time was considered for start-up versus the county's construction timetable, there was little benefit seen by citizens in withdrawing from the county services."

A tentative timetable for a 26,500-square-foot library somewhere in the Hunter area of West Valley was submitted to the City Council this week. It proposes a site selection and land purchase in 1993, design work in 1994, construction and staffing in 1995, and opening in 1996.

If the city stays with the county system, the existing branch will remain open and be improved, the new Hunter library will be built, and residents will continue to have access to all Salt Lake County, Salt Lake City and Murray libraries, county officials said.

If the city withdraws, the West Valley Branch will be closed, bookmobile service will be discontinued, and residents will be charged a non-resident fee of $25 for access to other libraries until its own library reached a service level that could earn it a reciprocal agreement with the other systems.

Assistant City Manager Karen S. Leftwich said the council will continue to review its options and will discuss the topic again at its April study meeting. She and other city officials said the issue is likely to remain on the agenda until the council is satisfied that West Valley library services will be improved.