County leaders could close four public libraries and limit hours at eight others in an effort to stave off an operating deficit.
“I think it’s a very sad day when we have to close libraries,” said Pima County Supervisor Richard Elías.
Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry has recommended the closure of Dewhirst-Catalina, 15631 N. Oracle Road; Dusenberry-River, 5605 E. River Road; Geasa-Marana,13370 N. Lon Adams Road; and Santa Rosa, 1075 S. 10th Ave.
Huckelberry estimates the closures would save $1.5 million annually.
Closing on Sundays at eight of the 10 libraries that currently maintain Sunday hours would save an additional $171,000.
“My recommendation was to not decimate the whole system,” Pima County Library Executive Director Melinda Cervantes said.
Cervantes said library officials considered cutting hours of operations at all the county’s 27 libraries, but to realize enough savings would have required limiting service to three or four days.
Elías blamed funding cuts and cost transfers by the state Legislature for the need to take measures like closing libraries.
“It’s a true loss, but that’s what happens when one region of the state is singled out for punishment by the state Legislature and governor,” he said.
County leaders have said the recently approved state budget forces as much as $23 million in costs historically paid by the state onto Pima County.
Downtown library user Dale Wicker said he doesn’t like the idea of closing neighborhood libraries.
“I don’t see what doing that would do,” Wicker said.
Wicker, a 16-year Tucson resident originally from North Carolina, said even the smaller libraries that face closure provide services in neighborhoods.
“A lot of people still go there,” he said. “And what are the kids going to do?”
Huckelberry said the four libraries recommended for closure are the least-used in the county’s system, adding that the board would ultimately have to decide the matter.
“It’s just a recommendation,” he said.
The Pima County Library system, as a whole, has a more than $5 million deficit.
The countywide library district is mostly funded through its own dedicated property tax and until this year had enough of a surplus in its fund balance to offset an operating shortfall for the past three years.
But that is no longer the case for the system, which is slated to get more than $39.5 million in the proposed fiscal 2016 budget.
“Now we have reduced the fund balance as far as it can go,” Huckelberry said.
The library district now has a 44 cent per $100 assessed value secondary property tax. Huckelberry has recommended a 6-cent increase in the library district tax, bringing the rate per $100 of assessed value to 50 cents.
The increase, coupled with the proposed closures and changed operating hours, would reduce the library system’s deficit to $657,436 in 2016.
An 8-cent increase, Huckleberry said, would generate enough money to keep the four libraries open.
Elías said that’s something the board should consider because “libraries are important to our youths.”
Some of the libraries that face closure pose additional challenges that county officials have recognized.
The Dewhirst-Catalina Library, for instance, lies near the Pinal County line and draws more than half its users from the retirement community of SaddleBrooke, which is in Pinal County.
Users could drive the additional seven miles to the Oro Valley Library if the county decides to close Dewhirst-Catalina.
The Geasa-Marana Library needs an estimated $700,000 in improvements. The building was never intended to be used as library, serving originally as a Sheriff’s Department substation. And it lies near two other libraries.
Another site never designed to house a library is the Dusenberry-River Library, which occupies part of a shopping center.
Huckelberry said the site has minimal visibility from the road and can’t be expanded.
Library officials wrote in a memo to Huckelberry that the county could sell the property to recover any losses when it closed.
Officials recommend using the library’s Bookmobile to serve the areas where closures occur.
About 16 full-time workers would be affected by the closures, but they likely would be able to be reassigned to unfilled positions within the library system.
Discussion on the possible closures has not yet been scheduled by the Board of Supervisors. The library district is scheduled to present its budget proposal to the board at the April 21 budget hearing.
The county absorbed the city of Tucson’s library system in 2006. The unified library system today operates 27 facilities in Tucson, Arivaca, Green Valley, Sahuarita, South Tucson, Ajo, Marana, Oro Valley and Catalina.