State proposal would gut local libraries, Huckelberry says

2014-02-03T00:00:00Z State proposal would gut local libraries, Huckelberry saysBy Joe Ferguson Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

A bill floated by a Mesa Republican could force Pima County to shut several libraries and gut staff at others.

House bill 2379, written by Rep. Justin Olson, seeks to limit how much the secondary property taxes levied by county free library, county jail and public-health-service districts can be increased.

The measure would limit the county’s library district tax levy, capping future annual increases to an inflationary rate.

County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry is gearing up to oppose the legislation, saying it would punish the county for keeping the tax levy artificially low for the past few years.

“The county has been managing our library district budget by reducing the fund balance over time to supplement the annual tax levy necessary to support the library district,” Huckelberry said in a memo to the county Board of Supervisors.

This year, Huckelberry said he planned to use approximately $5.4 million of a $9.5 million fund balance to cover the annual operating expense of the library system while reducing the annual property tax levy.

HB 2379 would force the county to cut the library district’s operating budget by about $ 5.4 million, Huckelberry said.

Faced with that kind of shortfall, the county would be forced to close the

Dewhirst-Catalina, Sahuarita, Santa Rosa, Quincie Douglas annex, Geasa-Marana, Dusenberry-River, El Pueblo and El Rio libraries.

Staffing at the remaining libraries would also be cut, Huckelberry said.

Melinda Cervantes, the executive director of the Pima County Public Library, has gone through similar cuts while working in California in the mid-1990s.

She predicted the current measure in the statehouse would lead to a much smaller staff for the remaining libraries to help patrons.

“It is going to be painful,” she said.

Olson, a former research analyst for the Arizona Tax Research Association, said he wrote the bill to close what he sees as a loophole in current state laws, which caps other tax levies but not these special districts.

He said he sat down with some lobbyists concerned about his measure and is willing to offer a compromise — letting the districts set a highest historic levy in the past three to five years.

Olson said he doesn’t want to punish special taxing districts that have tried to keep tax levels low.

Huckelberry said it isn’t enough and plans on continued opposition to HB 2379.

He said the community has continually supported building new libraries with various bond elections, and the measure would artificially constrain the county’s ability to fund day-to-day operations at various branches.

The current bond proposal, which could go before voters next year, proposes bond funding to build new libraries in Sahuarita, east Tucson and on Valencia Road, west of Interstate 19.

Contact repoter Joe Ferguson at jferguson@arzstarnet.com or 573-4346. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFerguson.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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