A seat was a tough thing to find at the Oro Valley Council Chambers on Feb. 21 when residents of Oro Valley and Pima County gathered in full for a meeting to discuss the future of the Oro Valley Public Library.
Oro Valley Communications Administrator, Misti Nowak, said the turnout is a “testament to this community and its passion for the library.”
The proposal by Town staff to change the library from affiliate status to a branch status of Pima County has been met with resistance in past discussions, a pattern that climaxed on Tuesday night.
The current Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) between Oro Valley and Pima County has the town paying $2.2 million in annual property taxes to Pima County, and an additional $600,000 from the town’s general fund for operation costs.
Under the proposed IGA, Pima County would assume the $600,000 without increasing the property tax.
“Over the past 10 years, an operation that began as a cost-neutral operation, has grown to nearly $600,000 a year,” said Nowak. “Our costs have grown tremendously, and that’s part of why we are looking at funding and different options.”
Before the floor opened for a question and answer session, Jane Peterson, Oro Valley Public Library manager, gave a presentation comparing the library’s current affiliate status with its potential branch status.
According to the tentative agreement between Oro Valley and Pima County, Peterson said if the transition occurs, much about the library would remain the same, including current programs and services, meeting room policies, and volunteer programs. Staffing, made up of members of the Oro Valley community, would remain the same, as would the enhanced collection of books that have come from funding of the Friends of Oro Valley. The library’s Book Shoppe would remain in its current location and maintain the same square footage, and the library itself will keep the same name.
Currently, the library doesn’t participate in a shared collection with Pima County. The new IGA will require Oro Valley to do so, but only with books that are not part of Oro Valley’s Heritage Collection, Local Authors Collection, or future books purchased by the Friends.
Branch status would also expand library hours and allow the library to be open on Sundays. Funding from the Friends will remain in Oro Valley library, as opposed to being divided amongst the other 26 Pima County branches.
“I am here to reassure you the IGA we have drafted addresses your concerns and the library will continue to be the same customer and volunteer friendly place that it is now,” said Peterson.
Hank Atha, Pima County Deputy Administrator, advocated a similar message while wearing a Friends of the Oro Valley Public Library button.
“I received this badge when I came in, and I put it on, because we have no intention of doing anything negative with your library,” he said. “We view all of our libraries as unique, and we expect all of the libraries to operate and work and serve the needs and interests of the communities they’re in.”
Atha said Pima County aims to increase the library’s book funding, and will potentially update the library’s computers.
Despite Peterson’s optimism and Atha’s reassurance, the majority of residents who spoke on Tuesday night maintained a position against surrendering affiliate status.
“If this system isn’t broken, why fix it?” asked one Oro Valley resident. The question stirred applause and subsequent questions, which Mayor Satish Hiremath addressed.
“The system is broken, and I’ll tell you why,” he said. “We went from $1.4 million to $1.2 last year. We reduced staff, we reduced hours, we reduced programming content, all in the namesake of the illusion of control. If that’s what control is, we shouldn’t want it. It’s just a poor business decision. We create partnerships to ensure the longevity of what’s important to our residents.”
Interim Town Manager Greg Caton firmly defended an accusation by Friends’ President, Martha Briggs, when she accused Town staff of failing to solicit input before drafting the tentative IGA.
“We said, ‘Tell us what’s important, tell us the list, and if we can achieve everything on that, then we would feel good about bringing that to Council for approval,’” said Caton. “We took the list, it’s there. We negotiated that. That’s what happened.”
Briggs said the main reason Oro Valley residents are fearful of becoming a branch is because they are being forced to trust that Pima County will live up to its end of the bargain.
“If anyone knows what’s going on between the County and Marana regarding their wastewater, it’s a real concern of people,” she said. “To just say it’s not going to happen is not good enough for everybody.”
Hiremath said since he has been mayor, Pima County has been a cooperative working partner, and he sees no reason for that to change going forward.
A few residents from Oro Valley and Pima County spoke in favor of the branch status.
Caton insisted there is no truth to the rumor that a decision has already been finalized regarding the proposed IGA. As Town staff works to do so, a finalized IGA is scheduled to go before Council on March 7, with the IGA made available to the public one week in advance. The Town continues to solicit input to incorporate into the IGA.
The IGA, if passed, will likely be for a term of three years, and includes a clause that would allow Oro Valley to withdraw from branch status and return to affiliate status with six months notice to Pima County.
Several residents called for a vote from the people, to which Hiremath said would have to be an issue discussed between all members of the Council.