September 27, 2006 - Nearly 100 citizens wearing "I love OVPL" stickers packed Oro Valley town hall Sept. 20 and begged the town council to not give away their beloved library.

The mere possibility of the turning over the library's control to Pima County resulted in an outpouring of library employees, volunteers and patrons, who criticized other regional libraries and pleaded with the council not to change the place many called the heart of Oro Valley.

Town council members said they understand the citizens' concerns, but in the end, passed a motion to "explore all options" when negotiating a new intergovernmental agreement with Pima County, signifying that the library could still be turned over to the county.

"Put your citizen hat on," said Satish Hiremath, former Greater Oro Valley Arts Council president. "I believe in Oro Valley. We have created a great concept with the library. It shouldn't go to someone else just to save a few bucks here or there."

With her 3-year-old daughter Alexandra dancing around the lectern, volunteer Anastasia Chao described her and Alexandra's love for the library.

"We are there several times a week," she said. "My daughter loves story time."

Chao said her daughter has heard rumblings about the possible turnover while in the library and now tells people, "They're trying to give away my library."

Town Manager David Andrews brought the item to the council to "get direction" as he prepares to negotiate a new intergovernmental agreement with Pima County.

Oro Valley's intergovernmental agreement with Tucson-Pima Public Library will expire in June.

Andrews presented a plan that could save the town $700,000 to $1.3 million annually after 2009 if the town turns over control to the Tucson-Pima Public Library system. The library would go from an "affiliate" to a "branch," a change many citizens worry would affect staff, library hours and policies.

In years past, Tucson and the county shared the costs of operating the regional public library system. But this year, budget-crunched Tucson turned its libraries over to the county's library district and over the next three years will gradually relinquish all funding responsibilities.

The county is raising the library district tax rate to cover the costs of running the additional libraries. Everyone in the county - including Oro Valley residents - will pay the increased rate. From 2005 to 2006, the rate jumped about 11 cents per $100 assessed property value, and the rate will continue to go up two or three cents in the next four years.

But the county reduced the primary property tax rate to adjust for the difference.

Oro Valley's library is the only library in the regional system termed an "affiliate," meaning that it's part of the system but Oro Valley pays slightly more than half its operating cost in order to have control over its staff, hours and programs.

Nancy Ledeboer, director of the Pima County Tucson-Pima Public Library, said Oro Valley started looking at turning over the library's control last year.

"(Former Town Manager) Chuck Sweet had us come up and talk to him," she said. "But they wanted to watch what happened with the turnover with Tucson."

Ledeboer said that across the country, cities are looking into creating library districts so they can alleviate the reliance on volatile city sales taxes, a trend she said started in 2001.

"When sales tax is down, cities are struggling to fund the libraries," Ledeboer said. "Cities are looking for more stable revenue streams."

Ledeboer recently traveled to San Antonio to explain to city officials how Pima County's district works, and Denver is looking into it too, she said.

But the prospect of being part of a regional, county-funded system is not sitting well with many library patrons.

After about 30 speakers, each describing their personal fondness for the library, some council members indicated they would work to keep the library under the town's control while others wanted the crowd to recognize the town's own budget crunch.

Councilwoman Helen Dankwerth said she agreed with "every single one of you." But she said the cost to the town is considerable, and because Oro Valley residents will share the burden of the increased library tax rates, she asked the town staff to look into trying to get more money back from the county to run the Oro Valley library.

In 2006-2007, Oro Valley budgeted about $1.3 million to operate the library with Pima County reimbursed the town 49 percent of that amount.

Most of the residents expressed concern that under the county's control, local groups like the Civil Air Patrol, which uses a meeting room on Sunday evenings, may not be able to use the library after hours.

Residents were also concerned about what would happen to town scrapbooks and artifacts housed in the library. They are worried that the Friends of the Library - the fundraising arm - wouldn't be able to operate its resale store, and they said they are scared that the library's partnerships with local businesses might fizzle.

And almost all said they are worried that the service level might decline.

Richard Johnson, who moved to Oro Valley four years ago from another part of the region, told the council he raised his children in the Tucson libraries. "When I walked in I would tell myself, 'Welcome to communist Russia,'" implying the librarians weren't friendly.

"I don't live in Oro Valley," said Kathleen Assar, "but I don't go to closer libraries because the Oro Valley library is far superior."

But Ledeboer said after the Sept. 20 meeting, despite the public comments Pima County has no intention of taking over the library.

"I was invited up here when (the town) saw that Tucson has found a way to turn over their library and save a lot of money," Ledeboer said.

Ledeboer said she was "a little bit" offended by the negative remarks about the libraries under her control. She said there are dozens of great libraries in the Tucson-Pima system that serve as the heart of communities.

She also said the county did not cut services.

"Since Pima County took over the Tucson libraries we have enhanced services," she said. "We've increased open hours, added wireless Internet and added computer labs in four libraries."

The Tucson library staff maintains the same jobs and salaries. Tucson employees had to switch from the city retirement system to the state system, Ledeboer said, but Oro Valley employees are already in the state system.

Ledeboer she said she wished she had a chance to address some of the fears, including one about pornography. A few citizens told the council that Oro Valley doesn't allow viewing pornography in the library, but that the county does.

"Oro Valley uses all the same policies that we do now," she said.

Mary Hartz-Musgrave, Oro Valley's library director said technically, the Oro Valley library operates under the town's code and the Tucson-Pima Public Library code.

For the pornography policy, Hartz-Musgrave said the Oro Valley library uses the same policy as the county. Anyone over 18 can view porn in the library. If a user is under 18, a computer filter blocks it.

For after-hours meetings, Hartz-Musgrave said the county policy and the town policies conflicted, so she follows the town's. The town policy says groups can use the specific meeting rooms after hours. The county does not allow groups to do so.

"That would have to be revisited if Oro Valley were to become a branch," Hartz-Musgrave said. But Ledeboer said after-hours meetings actually are at the discretion of the branch manager, and several branches in the system let groups meet before the library opens and after it closes.

After the discussion ended, many library supporters said they were relieved, but that the fight is not over yet.

"We still have a long way to go," said Chao, the volunteer with the dancing daughter. "But this is a step in the right direction. I'm happy."

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