A proposal from Oro Valley's library study commission looks to be gathering steam, perhaps fueling a drive all the way to the state legislature.
Joined by Kingman, Marana, Peoria and Phoenix, Oro Valley sponsored a proposal to change how library districts are run, and more specifically what government runs them.
"It creates freedom of choice and pushes local control," David Andrews, Oro Valley's town manager, said of the proposal.
Under current law, counties control libraries and the property tax districts that fund them. Municipalities can't opt out of the property tax or create their own library districts.
Oro Valley wants municipalities to have the power to opt out of a county library tax district and form their own special taxing districts.
The proposal appears on the Arizona League of Cities and Towns resolution list. A final approval from other league members will be made at the group's annual convention, held in September in Oro Valley.
Representatives from each member city vote on the proposals, and those that get approved will be added to a final list of resolutions. The league then spends the next legislative session pouring its energy into getting the proposals passed into law.
"Our council certainly likes to maintain local control," said Gilbert Davidson, Marana's town manager.
Marana signed on to support Oro Valley's initiative, but Davidson said Marana probably would not seek to opt out of the current system with the county.
"Marana doesn't have any plans to move in the direction that Oro Valley has, but it does support the move toward local control," Davidson said, adding the town would like to have the option to leave the county-run system in the future.
Unlike Oro Valley, Marana doesn't fund part of its library out of its general fund; any additional money comes only from secondary property taxes.
The agreement between Oro Valley and the county, however, has the two governments sharing costs.
The Oro Valley Public Library operates as an affiliate of the county system. The two governments split costs for the library and share an ownership stake in the building and materials. The town owns the library property and the employees work for Oro Valley.
"The citizens of Oro Valley and the Friends of the Oro Valley Public Library have clearly said they want the town to own and operate the library," Andrews said.
Oro Valley property owners paid an estimated $2.3 million into the Pima County Library District last year. In fiscal 2010, local levies likely will decline to about $1.8 million because of a reduction of the library district tax from $0.34 per $100 assessed value to $0.26. The new rate would bring in $26 million toward funding the $37.4 million countywide library system.
Operating costs for the Oro Valley Library are shared. The county reimburses the town 50 percent of the costs. In the 2009 fiscal year, county reimbursements totaled $620,000, about half of the $1.3 million operating expenses. The remaining $700,000 annual costs are paid from the town's general fund.
County officials say the agreement has worked well for everyone involved, and that the change as proposed would negatively impact the libraries.
"It wouldn't just have an impact on us, it would have an impact on county libraries throughout the state," said Pima County Library Director Nancy Ledeboer.
Ledeboer said counties are able to run libraries cheaper than individual cities or town because of their larger size and purchasing power.
A town running a single library would not have the same tax base to draw from as Pima County, which runs 27 libraries, and likely would realize greater costs, she said.
"The benefit to residents is much greater if it's run by one system," Ledeboer said.
Library costs and claims of double-taxation prompted the creation of Oro Valley's review panel, and continue to dominate the discussion.
The proposed resolution forward by town officials to the League of Cities and Towns laments not being allowed to opt out of a county tax and the added cost that Oro Valley bears.
"This results in unwarranted double taxation for the residents of those cities and towns who elect to own and operate their own libraries either as a part of, or independently of, any county library system," the document reads.
While that may be the case, Ledeboer points out that Oro Valley asked to be an affiliate of the county system.
"They have chosen to underwrite the cost of their library," Ledeboer said.
While Andrews acknowledges the town signed on to the agreement with the county, it hardly sought to finance a system that takes more from residents than it delivers.
"That's not a choice, that was the best deal from the county we could get," Andrews said.
Resolution authors, and Andrews, say many cities and towns pay a disproportionate amount into the county library districts. They say of the 90 cities and towns in the state, 43 pay for up to 90 percent of library operations. At least half the funds in most counties come from cities, according to the proposed resolution.
Andrews praised the proposal because it would allow cities a choice, whether they want to remain part of a county run district or not. Any confusion caused by the network of library districts would be minimal, he continued.
"It's nothing that couldn't be worked out through an intergovernmental agreement," Andrews said. "Governments cooperate through IGAs all the time." He noted that the town has hundreds of such agreements with governments throughout the region.
Ledeboer, though, said that allowing cities to leave a county library district and form districts of their own would create chaos.
"If you look at the potential of something like this, the legislature, in theory, would have to authorize 90 more library districts," Ledeboer said.
She said the change would create a "Balkanization" of library systems, where towns would have to form multiple intergovernmental agreements throughout the state to provide the same level of service available under the current system.
"If you look at it," Ledeboer said, "it's working very well."
Oro Valley seeks support to change library, state land laws
At the Arizona League of Cities and Towns annual convention next month, held this year at the Hilton El Conquistador in Oro Valley, group members will vote on a series of proposed resolutions.
Those resolutions that meet with member approval make it on the league's list of priorities for the coming legislative session. League representatives lobby state lawmakers on behalf of member cities and towns.
Oro Valley sponsored following four proposed resolutions this year:
• A proposal urging the legislature to support the Arizona Heritage Fund and end the diversion of funds from the Arizona Heritage Fund in future years.
Voters approved the Heritage Fund in 1990, which designates up to $10 million a year from lottery ticket sales for wildlife protection.
• A resolution requesting that the legislature fully funds the state's public schools and universities.
• A resolution that changes laws that don't currently permit municipalities to opt out of county special library taxing districts. The change would allow cities to form their own special taxing districts to fund independent library districts.
• A resolution asking the legislature to not appropriate local impact fee funds for the state budget. The proposal also asks the legislature to not suspend municipalities' collection of or alteration to impact fees.