Local libraries could be hit hard — though in very different ways — if a bill winding its way through the state Legislature is passed.

HB 2379, introduced by Justin Olson, R-Mesa, would limit the Library District tax levy to its 2013-14 level and cap future increases to an inflationary rate.

Sahuarita Library branch manager Michele White called the bill "devastating."

"We have worked so hard, and basically if this bill passes, our branch closes," she said. "We were pushing for a new building, too. The community will suffer."

Pima County Library executive director Melinda Cervantes said they have been "very fiscally responsible but nine libraries are at risk of closing" if the bill gains traction.

"This bill would also mean reduced library hours and the elimination of programs such as the Bookmobile and Books by Mail and could impact the jobs of 46 or more full-time employees, plus temporary employees and library pages."

A permanent library in Sahuarita is expected to be part of a county bond package next year.

Joyner-Green Valley Branch Library manager Donie Gignac said if the Sahuarita branch closes, the Green Valley library "will become very busy."

Traci Butler, who runs the R.E.A.D.S. Program — Reading, Exceeding, Achieving, Developing and Succeeding" — for first- and second-graders in the Sahuarita Unified School District, called the library a “critical educational resource.”

"I have middle school kids who go to the library several times a week — some just to be able to use the computers because they don't have one at home," she said.

In the past six years, similar bills have been introduced in the state Legislature attempting to remove local flexibility of library districts in rural Arizona.

The Pima County Public Library is funded primarily through a dedicated property tax called the Library District Tax which shows up on property tax bills as Library District.

The rate is set every year by the Pima County Board of Supervisors and is currently at about 38 cents per $1,000 assessed value.

According to a Jan. 29 memorandum by County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry, the county has been managing the Library District budget by reducing the fund balance over time to supplement the annual tax levy necessary to support the Library District.

This year, Huckelberry said the Board of Supervisors proposed to utilize about $5.4 million of a $9.5 million fund balance to reduce the annual property tax levy in meeting annual operating expenditures of the library system.

Huckelberry said the county would be forced to reduce the library operating budget by about $5.4 million for the next fiscal year if the legislation is approved.

State Sen. Andrea Dalessandro, D-Sahuarita, said she "remains positive" that the bill will not pass.

"There has been community outcry over this issue and I believe it's going to continue until the bill fails," she said Friday. "The library has always meant so much to me, ever since I was a child. It's not only a place where people can read, but it's a special community gathering place."

Regina Ford | 547-9740