In 1986 the Gila County Board of Supervisors created a County Free Library District. This gave the county the authority to levy a secondary property tax as an independent funding source for libraries.
The message was clear -- libraries were important and deserved special support from taxpayers.
Libraries within Gila County have become dependent on this money. Some say the library district tax was never intended to become a primary funding source for libraries inside incorporated towns. If that was the case, then a good idea evolved into a better one. Unincorporated and incorporated communities have all benefited from the fruits of that 1986 decision.
Now, the county is experiencing declining revenues from the struggling mining industry. The Board of Supervisors has identified a $175,000 shortfall in its $47 million budget for 1999-2000.
This shortfall is less than one half of one percent of the entire budget. It is difficult to understand why the board, at the last minute and without warning, is trying to take the entire amount from a pot they have no business reaching into. The Payson Library stands to lose $92,000 -- or three full-time employees.
We are sympathetic to the county supervisors and the task before them. It is never easy to balance a budget when funds are short. However, that's their job. They may have to consider raising taxes or reducing county services.
The simplest and most obvious solution would be to make a small cut across the board and share the shortfall among all budget categories.
If there needs to be a change in the way the library district operates, this should be done with careful planning, discussion and order.
We know there needs to be more cooperation between town and county officials, but this type of last-minute maneuver is unfair and creates undue conflict. We urge the Board of Supervisors to leave the library district funds alone and work toward better communication with all towns in Gila County.