Oro Valley residents will have a chance to voice their concerns regarding the future of the library during a Town Hall meeting scheduled for Feb. 21 at 6 p.m.
In past meetings, residents have spoken out against a proposal by Town staff to partner with Pima County, fearing the level of service currently received will be lost.
Town staff has been in ongoing discussions with Pima County to reduce or eliminate the excess library expenditures coming out of the Town’s general fund each year, amounting to about $600,000.
Oro Valley Interim Town Manager Greg Caton said the upcoming meeting is designed to educate residents on the meaning of moving the library from affiliate status to branch status, as well as to solicit input from residents for the new Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA).
“We want to ask residents what they feel is most special about the library,” he said. “We would then do our best to incorporate those things into the new agreement. We can still move from affiliate status to branch status, and have a special branch.”
Mayor Satish Hiremath said he believes the majority of the library debate comes from work control, but believes Oro Valley has a lot to gain through a partnership with Pima County.
“All change is pretty scary. There is a fear the aura of the library will change dramatically,” he said. “In reality, the library will maintain the same employees, and there is a strong possibility for expanded hours and service, with more programs and more tutoring.”
Martha Briggs, President of the Friends of the Oro Valley Library, said the group has several concerns about the library becoming a branch of Pima County.
“There are absolutely things that would change,” she said. “The topic of branch versus affiliate status is complicated, but the question is simple, do Oro Valley residents want to keep this very special library they helped create?”
Briggs said the programming currently offered would change since the library, if it becomes a branch of Pima County, would also tailor to the desires of Pima County patrons.
Further concerns come in reference to the library employees, despite the claims by the Town that employees will remain the same.
“The employees are currently Town employees, she said. “The Town exercises its control over these employees, meaning employees stay local. If we become a branch status, Pima County employees can then be transferred. It’s more than just a place for books. Patrons love seeing familiar faces. Who knows what the patrons want better than the people running it locally?”
Briggs said the library is a big source of pride for residents of Oro Valley, many of which helped contribute time and money to create it.
An additional concern centers around the Friends-donated books program. If an agreement is reached with Pima County, the control of these books will come into question. Currently, if a Friends-donated book is checked out from the Oro Valley Library, it is also returned there. If Pima County acquires control, these books could be shared at any Pima County library without being returned to Oro Valley. The meeting will address concerns such as this.
“It’s a big sticking point,” said Hiremath. “But I ask, why not purchase books that everyone can read?”
Hiremath said there is a false sense of control when it comes to the library.
“Last year we had to cut back on our $1.4 million budget to $1.2 million,” he said. “There was a reduction in employee hours, program content, and staff. If that’s the kind of control we are going to have over the library, I don’t want control.”
Still, Hiremath, who personally donated to fund the construction of the library’s children’s room, said he has as much to lose as anyone.
“If I am willing to take a look at alternatives, so should the residents of Oro Valley,” he said. “We aren’t going to just turn the library over and let it be shut down.”
According to Hiremath, if the partnership occurs, the money saved could be used for a variety of other town desirables, including increased arts and cultures venues, which could attract tourism and result in additional revenues. The partnership could also open up more revenue space for new library staff, increased employee hours and additional book stock.
Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said Pima County is willing to partner and cover the additional $600,000 Oro Valley currently pays, but emphasized the decision rests entirely with Oro Valley. If the partnership occurs, Huckelberry said the Oro Valley Library would be treated just as well as every other library in Pima County.
“The resources will continue to be tailored to the patrons,” he said. “There will be no intrusion on Pima County’s part. We have every interest in serving the needs of Oro Valley residents.”
Caton is in the process of creating a tentative draft agreement to be presented to the public during the Feb. 21 meeting. The current IGA between Pima County and Oro Valley expires June 30.
Briggs encourages residents of Oro Valley to attend the meeting to become educated on the matter. No decision has officially been made about the library’s future.