County Shifts Library Costs To Town

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The Gila County Board of Supervisors, sitting as the county library district board, decided Tuesday that the county will only pay half of the Payson library's operating costs this year.


The other half, they said, must be paid for by the town.


The board's decision, which affects all of the incorporated towns and cities in the county, is the result of an effort that began a year ago to shift some of the county's library operation costs to local municipalities.


Last year, Payson chipped in nearly $63,500 for local library operation costs or about 29 percent of the total cost, Gila County Administrator Steve Besich said.


This year the county wants the town to pay more than $112,600 -- half the Payson Library's $225,300 budget for services and operations.


"This plan brings a burden to the town that we did not have in previous years," Payson Mayor Vern Stiffler said.


This move is especially troublesome in light of the town's plan to build a new 15,765-square-foot library building at Rumsey Park later this year, Stiffler said.


"They put a 2 1/2-percent cap on the increase," he said. "Now, we know that the operating and maintenance expenses of the new library are going to be a lot higher than they are at the old library on Main Street. So the town is really going to have to pony up some money to operate that new library."


The county supervisors approved a funding plan Tuesday that will allow the Gila County Library District to match each municipality for the cost of library services on a 50-50 basis up to last year's library budget plus 2.5-percent growth.


However, the county will spend no more than a total of $307,201 on library services and operations countywide. Any unencumbered funds will be reserved for automation upgrades, Besich said.


If the $307,201 isn't enough to match the operation costs at all of the county's libraries, the towns and cities have to pay the rest, said Glenn Smith, chief financial officer for the town of Payson.

"In order for the town to budget, they don't have a choice. If they don't fund it, you either shut down your operation or you kick in the money," Smith said. "How much you kick in depends upon the level of service you want to provide."


The county's library district property tax levy is 74 percent above the state average, making it the second-highest in Arizona, and the county's municipal funding for libraries is 64 percent below the state average, making it the second-lowest in Arizona, Besich said.


The supervisors/library district board members estimate the plan will allow the county to reduce the library district tax rate by 4.25 cents from 24.25 cents to 20 cents. What that reduction would mean to the owner of a $100,000 home, said Smith, would be a $42.50 tax savings each year.


Besich emphasized that the plan for the district funds is not carved in stone.


"If we have some catastrophic thing happen, like our tax base goes to heck, (the plan could change). It's all subject to the availability of money."


The "net reality" of the county's plan, Smith said, is that, "instead of the $156,000 they've been paying us for the last two or three years -- and it was around $153,000 before that -- they are now down to just under $113,000.


"No matter how much our costs increase, no matter how many additional services we're providing to both town and county residents, none of that is material," Smith said. "We will either have to cut services, reduce services, or find additional general fund money in order to provide the level we're now achieving.


"A two-and-a-half percent increase just isn't going to do it when you're bringing a new building online," Smith said. "And that has nothing to do with the cost of the building, which the town is completely fronting for over $2 million. The county's not putting a dime into that. Nor are the county residents. We're just talking about operating costs.


"The citizens will be providing a building that will be open to the total county, of which the county is only going to pay $112,000 to help operate it? There's some inequities in there, and how you address them, I don't know."

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