Every member of the Sedona City Council agreed that the Sedona Public Library is an important piece of the city’s pie.
But what the piece of pie is worth was up for debate on Tuesday, July 11.
Council revisited the awarding of a service contract to the library, which saw its three-year contract coming to an end. The library had received around $390,000 each of the last three years but requested $656,160 for the current fiscal year, which began July 1. However, a contract committee recommended awarding $493,932.
During an April meeting at which the tentative budget was adopted, council directed staff to include $403,780 for the Sedona library but did not wish to finalize that amount until they had a chance to further deliberate. In the end, council voted 5-2 this week to award the library a one-year contract at $432,000.
Councilmen Jon Thompson and Joe Vernier were in favor of the committee’s recommendation. Vice Mayor John Martinez, a member of the committee, said he wished to see the larger amount but voted for the lesser.
“When you simply look at how much we are spending — and if we didn’t have the benefits of the library owning its own building and property — and the city had to provide this, well, we’ve got a pretty good deal here,” Thompson said. “Basically it comes down to $50 a year [based on the $493,000 amount] per resident to support our needs and to be good hosts for our visitors.”
Mayor Sandy Moriarty said she was “astounded” when she saw the library’s original request of $656,160 for this year and while she understands the needs, she also felt increasing it from $403,000 to $493,000 was too big of a jump.
“We don’t give our departments the chance to come back and reargue for more money for them,” she said. “A one-year contract at $432,000 gives us a chance to look at the whole thing in context with the other [city] departments. We’re kind of giving short shift to our own staff when they don’t get the chance to come forward and make this kind of presentation.”
Because the library is a nonprofit, the city is just one of several funding sources. For the 2017 fiscal year, Cococnino County gave $417,000 for the main library with Yavapai County providing another $224,000 plus certain operating services.
This, along with the city funding, made up the bulk of its $1.34 million budget. After the meeting, City Manager Justin Clifton explained why he recommended the $403,000 to the council.
“From my vantage point, the library has solid funding overall and is providing award-winning operations at current funding levels,” he said. “At the same time, I recommended reducing requests made by some city departments and recommended no funding at all for a sustainability program even though sustainability is a central theme of the city’s Community Plan and a current council priority.”
He said the city has to juggle several other priorities and ensure funding for each. For example, the city has identified numerous transportation improvements but does not have an ongoing revenue source dedicated to those projects.
“On its face, our library is a cornerstone institution in our community worthy of an investment that would make it greater than it already is,” Clifton said. “But in the context of the many other priorities that have little or no funding at all, I made the difficult decision to recommend only an inflationary increase. In a world of finite resources we have to prioritize among many competing services and programs that are all worthy but can’t all be funded.”
Library Director Virginia Volkman and Board President Joel DeTar spoke on the needs for the library and the desire to get back to pre-recession funding and hours — which were at 55 hours and are now 48 — to meet the requirements of the 200,000 annual patrons.
The library recently purchased land adjacent to the current facility using funding earmarked specifically for capital improvements. The plan is to expand the building while adding several meeting rooms of varying sizes.
Currently they have two — one that seats nearly 130 and another 20. Detar said that over the last 18 months they have done staff and patron surveys and one of the things most requested is additional meeting space.
“We certainly do not have what we need to serve what we’re being asked to serve now,” he said, adding that a dedicated teen space is sorely needed.
The library has more than $700,000 in reserves for operational funding. Volkman said because of a bequest and other unexpected donations, the library did not operate in a deficit this past fiscal year. However, she said over the last five years they have had to dip into that fund to cover day-to-day costs.
“Our deficit for this next year is $140,000,” Detar said. “We’re at a deficit and in a few short years, that $700,000 will be gone if we don’t get lucky enough to get bequests or large gifts. We have no way of knowing if those are going to come in and it’s not fiscally responsible to say, ‘They’ll come in, we know they will.’”