"What are the alternatives?"
This was the question the Gila County Board of Supervisors put to a standing-room-only crowd at the Gila County Courthouse in Globe Tuesday during a public hearing on the county's 1999-2000 budget.
Town officials and library supporters, including a number of children from Payson, Globe, Miami and Hayden, were there to ask the county not to cut funding to the County Library District's municipal libraries, a proposal that is part of a package to offset declining revenues from the mining industry.
County supervisors are considering a 6-percent decrease in the Library District's tax and a 24 percent increase in the General Fund tax, a measure they say will enable them to continue health department services in towns, cities, and unincorporated areas throughout the county.
However, the proposed decrease in library funding came only after town officials in Payson and Globe refused to comply with the county's demand for funding for health services retroactive to 1998-1999. The Town of Payson received a bill from the county for more than $200,000 for services they said they had not requested.
The county supervisors adopted the 1999-2000 budget of nearly $47.5 million Tuesday, but failed to come to a conclusion on the tax rate for the library district.
After more than three hours of discussion, the supervisors agreed to consider funding municipal libraries at somewhere between the current $0.2425 tax rate and the reduced rate of $0.1825 per $100 of assessed property value.
The lower tax rate would mean a $92,000 shortfall in county funding for the Payson Public Library this coming year.
The supervisors will make a final decision on setting the county's tax rates Aug. 16, just one week after a planned meeting with town officials in Payson.
John Nelson, county finance director, said that state shared sales tax is not adequate for the county's needs, and mining revenues dropped by more than $1 million while the budget increased by 1.4 percent.
Ron Christensen, District 1 supervisor and chairman of the Board of Supervisors, said the services the county provides have been tied to revenue from the cattle, mining and timber industries. With the decline of the cattle and timber industries, the county came to depend on mining for revenue.
District 3 Supervisor Cruz Salas called on the cities and towns to work with the county.
Payson Town Council member Ken Murphy commended Salas' effort to get the towns and county working together, but said he did not approve of the county's methods in solving the problems they faced.
"The issue of mining is not a new problem," Murphy said.
Murphy objected to what he said was unequal treatment between the towns and the outlying areas, which would not be affected by the proposed cut in library funding.
Council member Ray Schum said he felt the Town of Payson had to protect itself from the county."
"I do agree with what Cruz has said about us working together," he said. Schum told the supervisors that the contingency fund of $400,000 the Town of Payson has set aside in next year's budget is for emergencies, not for funding the library.
Christensen talked about the need for health services and immunizations the county has been providing. He said the county and the towns of Payson and Globe have gone back and forth over the funding for health services.
Both Payson and Globe refused to pay and questioned the legal aspects of billing for those services.
County aid to towns cited
Christensen also talked about the county's previous investment of "large sums of money" into the town's rodeo grounds and parks. "It's not a one-way street, gentlemen. It's a two-way street up here. You did not find any willingness to meet our need or show an interest in what our predicament was."
Christensen listed the amounts of money the county had contributed to the libraries since 1992 and talked about the amounts the towns had contributed, which, at best, was less than half the funding provided by the county. Some towns had given nothing to support their libraries.
Globe Vice Mayor Ross Bittner told the supervisors that he didn't want to get into "what happened yesterday."
"I'd like to get into what's happening tomorrow," he said. "We're very confident that this can get worked out."
Bittner talked about the poor timing on the part of the supervisors, saying that the issue arose after the towns had put next year's budgets together. He also said he had a problem with tying together the issues of health care and library funding.
District 2 Supervisor Edward Guerrero said that the issues were separate and blamed the media for tying them together.
Salas concurred, saying that the supervisors are not taking the library district money to support health services. "We look at the whole picture of the revenues and we know we have to raise taxes to a certain point," he said.
Delvan Hayward, a member of the Miami Town Council, said that Miami was very saddened by the turn of events. "You say the two issues are separate -- we see them linked."
Separate town district?
When Christensen called for solutions to the problems the county faced, Murphy said that the Town of Payson could form its own library district.
Murphy's comment was an obvious slap in the face to Christensen, who said that he had looked for solutions. "The only thing you said is that you would dissolve the district. We may want to look at other services as well -- jails, the court system, the landfill."
While Christensen talked about the lack of Payson's citizens' support for the library and the failed vote to raise funds for a new town library, he commended the Friends of the Payson Library for "stepping up to the plate."
Judy Buettner, president of the library support group, said the town's library serves 12,000 people, 30 percent of whom are residents of outlying areas. "We urge you to meet the libraries' needs," Buettner told the supervisors.
Christensen warned that a cut must be made somewhere.
"If you want full funding on libraries, there has to be some give in other areas," Christensen told the audience. "If that isn't resolved, then the libraries will have to be cut. We're not opposed to libraries -- it's a funding matter and a request to the cities and towns to help us out."
On Monday, Aug. 9, town and county officials will go to the table to try to answer the question and look at other options they have open to them.