The libraries in Sonoita, Tubac, Rio Rico and Nogales were closed after business hours Thursday in a power play by the City of Nogales meant to get Santa Cruz County to show its cards about the future of the county’s free library system.
A notice placed by city staff on the doors said: “The Nogales-Santa Cruz Library system will remain closed (until further notice) due to the lack of a funding commitment from the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors.” It listed the county telephone number and directed library-goers to call Supervisors Manuel Ruiz of District 1; Rudy Molera, District 2; and John Maynard, District 3 if they wanted more information “regarding the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors’ commitment to funding the Nogales-Santa Cruz Library system.”
For now, computers have been removed from the libraries in the outlying areas, but City Manager Dille said staff will remain on board in preparation for the scenario that the county “goes in a different direction.”
He said he apprised staff of the situation on Thursday afternoon, telling them that, “We hope that the discussion with the county that should have occurred a long time ago is going to happen soon and that this situation is short term.”
The six full-time and two part-time employees will remain on the job. “There’s a lot to do,” Dille said.
Indicating the matter could result in a lawsuit, Dille said that even if the county pulls out, “while the matter is left up to the court,” there are inventories that must be taken of all city books and shelving and other property in preparation for what may be a scaled-down operation at the Nogales-Abe Rochlin Library.
The closures on Thursday brought to a head the county’s vacillation in clarifying its future participation in the library system. The county had terminated a previous pact when it announced it intended to form its own taxing district. However, the taxing district idea was quashed in 2010 by the Board of Supervisors and it never came to fruition.
After operating without a contract since 2010, the city presented the county with an intergovernmental agreement two years ago. Dille said that the document went ignored, but the county continued to absorb its share of the costs of running the system and things remained status quo. According to the city’s budget, the projected expense for the library system county-wide is $497,789 with each entity covering 50 percent of the costs.
Dille said he has reached out to County Manager Carlos Rivera to no avail, but as long as the funding flowed from the county, the city was willing to continue without a signed agreement.
However, “rumors” surfaced early this year and again this month that the county had approached the Town of Patagonia to take over running the library system so it could conceivably wash its hands of the Nogales branch.
Dille showed the NI a January email exchange in which he asked Rivera about these rumors and requested a meeting to discuss funding issues. Rivera responded by asking where Dille had heard the rumors, but never addressed the question as to whether the county was considering the move to Patagonia and whether or not he wanted to meet with Dille.
The NI called Rivera for comment, but he was in Show Low, Ariz., at an insurance pool conference and is not expected back in the office until Monday, a staffer said.
City Attorney Jose Luis Machado said the county is within its right to either form a taxing district to run its own library system, or can contract with another incorporated area such as Patagonia to run the system. But Machado also pointed out that Nogales is part of Santa Cruz County and that in his opinion, the county government would still have to subsidize the Nogales library.
With funding and personnel scarce, Nogales has over the years developed the system and implemented complex software that is incorporated in the outlying areas as well, Machado explained.
“I think they’re in for a rude awakening when they find out what all has gone into this” if they decide to break the pact with the city, he said.
In a telephone interview on Thursday, Supervisor Ruiz, whose district includes Nogales, said things have turned out badly because there has been lack of communications on the part of both sides.
“We meet every Wednesday, there is no reason why they couldn’t come up under call-to-the-public to express their concerns and we would have addressed this,” he said.
“I have always advocated that we need to sit down like adults across the table from each other and hash all these things out,” he said. “We have multiple areas in which we can collaborate but because we are unable to do this we miss opportunity after opportunity” to serve the constituency more efficiently.
Ruiz said that it has been a problem through the administrations of Mayors Octavio Garcia-Von Borstel, Arturo Garino and now John Doyle. “I think over the years we’ve met just two or three times.”
In the meantime, regarding the library system, “You know, bills are being paid. The city presents their bills and we pay them,” Ruiz said. “We haven’t even approved our budget, but I talked to (Finance Director) Jennifer St. John and she indicated there is a 2 percent increase (for the library) in the proposed budget. There has been no decision as to what is going to happen,” including whether the county will contract with Patagonia going forward.