Our vital libraries would be damaged under tax plan

2014-02-05T00:00:00Z Our vital libraries would be damaged under tax plan{/Byline} Arizona Daily Star
February 05, 2014 12:00 am  • 

Whether it’s children enjoying story time or adults looking for a job online, a group meeting in one of the community rooms or a résumé writing class, Pima County libraries are alive with sound. That hum of activity is our tax dollars at work benefiting people of all ages.

But libraries will be a lot quieter if HB 2379 passes.

The bill, proposed by Rep. Justin Olson, would limit secondary property taxes levied by county library, jail and public health services districts. As reported in the Star, this would force the county to slash the library district’s budget, leading to closures and cuts in staffing, along with shorter operating hours, throughout the district.

Libraries are vital sources of information and services in the community. This bill should not be approved.

Pima County libraries are funded through a dedicated property tax currently set at 38 cents per $1,000 assessed value. This money is used to operate 27 branches throughout the county, including libraries in Tucson, South Tucson, Marana, Oro Valley and Sahuarita on a budget of $35 million.

While the bill would have negative effects throughout the state, especially in rural areas, the threat of this bill passing comes at a particularly bad time for Pima County. According to officials, the county deliberately approved a deficit library budget to fill the shortfall with money from the district’s fund balance to reduce the fund’s size, from $9.4 million to less than $4 million.

The measure, meant to drop the fund balance to an ideal 10 percent of the annual budget, means that the tax rate was kept artificially low and insufficient to cover the library’s budget — it would be this inadequate rate that would be forced upon the county if HB 2379 passes.

Rep. Olson has said the purpose of the bill is to close a loophole in current state laws, which caps other tax levies but not library, jail and public health services. These levies are set at the county level and ideally correspond to the needs determined by local authorities. Why would the Legislature want to take that power away?

Almost 6 million people visited Pima County libraries last fiscal year. Libraries give everyone the opportunity to access information they may not be able to get elsewhere. They contribute to furthering education, promote literacy and improve a community’s quality of life.

HB 2379 would impose an unnecessary constraint on how libraries are funded. The Legislature should step back and allow districts to determine their own future.

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

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