Eight Pima County Libraries Win Reprieve From Closing

The Pima County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday tentatively rolled back a plan that would have closed eight libraries on Sundays to help balance the new budget.

The closings, which were scheduled to start this weekend, would have reduced the number of libraries open on Sundays from 18 to 10.  The library system has 27 branches.

Melinda Cervantes, executive director of the Pima County Public Library, said that in anticipation of the scheduled closings, the eight libraries had already changed schedules for their workers, and they are now hoping to find enough people to work this Sunday.

“We will do our level best to get those eight libraries open this Sunday,” Ms. Cervantes said. “It may take two weeks for us to make that happen.”

The suspension of the closings came at the same time that the supervisors agreed to a tentative county budget of $1.166 billion for the fiscal year starting in June. That budget includes a property tax levy of about $5.92 for each $100 of valuation, a 20-cent increase.

The Pima County administrator, Chuck Huckelberry, said property taxes will rise because the state has shifted more than $23 million in costs to the county. But, he added, the tax increases will be smaller if the county wins a lawsuit against the state over the cost shifts.

The Martha Cooper library in Tucson was one of eight libraries set to close every Sunday until Pima County supervisors stepped in at their Tuesday meeting.
The Martha Cooper library in Tucson was one of eight libraries set to close every Sunday until Pima County supervisors stepped in at their Tuesday meeting.Polo Rocha | NYT Institute

The tentative property tax increase includes an 8-cent rise in the library tax, which supervisors approved 4 to 1. Final action on the budget will come next month, leaving open the possibility that the levy for libraries could still be reduced and some services cut back.

Tuesday’s actions keep the status quo for library operations until supervisors meet next month to decide the county’s final budget. The tax increase would help close a projected $5 million deficit.

The lone vote against the library budget proposal came from Pima County Supervisor Ally Miller, District 1, who criticized current property tax levels.

“We hear from taxpayers they can’t afford to pay more,” Ms. Miller said. “People are losing their homes. People are having to turn in their pets to Animal Control because they can’t afford to keep them.”

Ms. Miller also voted against the county’s tentative budget, joining Supervisor Ray Carroll, District 4. The tentative budget passed 3 to 2.

For now, the library is praising the “good news” from Tuesday according to a tweet from the Pima County Library’s Twitter account. Ms. Cervantes said the supervisors’ action came partly because library supporters raised concerns over the cuts.

“This is a very democratic process, and the community loves this library,” Ms. Cervantes said. “They engage, they volunteer, they use it.They were willing to come and speak at a number of hearings and write letters and make phone calls.”

She said it was heartening to see that they value the libraries, and, of course, keeping libraries open is always our goal.

But some libraries might close after the supervisors decide the final budget in June, which is when they are expected to have a review of the county library facilities to determine when people use libraries the most.

Supervisor Ramón Valadez, District 2, who proposed the 8-cent library tax increase, said the library review will help inform supervisors as they consider whether they will cut back hours on some days.

“Frankly, we heard a great deal from our constituents,” Mr. Valadez said. “We listened to them, and that’s why we took the action that we did. If we’re going to look at closing or changing hours, we need to know that it has sound reasoning behind doing it.”


This post has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: May 20, 2015

An earlier online version of this article misstated the status of the Geasa-Marana Library. It will not be closing. The article also said that three branches would have reduced hours. They will not.