Last spring, thousands and thousands of postcards were collected and hand delivered to City of Prescott council members. Barry Barbe launched the project, wanting to remind the council members during budget considerations that the library is important to the citizens of Prescott.
Barbe laughs when he confesses that he still has about 1500 or so cards to deliver. (You can view the postcards on the Library Postcard Project facebook page.)
Barbe cares about the library. But, he’s also a businessman, and he knows that keeping doors open costs money. Last spring the City was operating in uncertainty, facing large Public Safety Personnel Retirement System (PSPRS) payments far into the future, without a known source of revenue to make those payments. So, Barbe had about 15,000 postcards printed up and passed them out to library supporters. Then he delivered a few hundred every week to each council member as they deliberated on city finances.
Councilwoman Billie Orr read every postcard she received.
"You can’t support the library and have it continue on its own without a revenue source," Barbe explained at the time. "I don’t see this [Prop 443] as a tax, I see this as investment in our future, and an investment in a town I’ve been in for 20 years, what I consider to be my home now.”
So, Barbe stepped up to support Prop 443, a 3/4 cent sales tax, with revenue to be dedicated solely to paying down the PSPRS liability. Written into the language of the tax is a provision that it would end in ten years or sooner if the approximately $80 million liability is paid down to $1.5 million. It was his belief that in order to support the library, he had to support the tax, which would provide funds in order to maintain the library.
Barbe campaigned wholeheartedly for Prop 443, attending events, sponsoring events, opening his restaurant early and serving a generous spread of food, mimosas and coffee.
Fast forward a few months, and now the City knows it has revenue to pay down the PSPRS liability. 9,137 people voted in favor of Prop 443 - providing over a 7% margin of victory.
Coincidentally, (?) that’s a rough correlation to how many library postcards Barbe delivered to the council members.
In the Tuesday 3 PM Council meeting, agenda item 11A reads, "Restoration of Library Sunday Hours. The estimated cost is $42,643.20 from October 1, 2017-June 30, 2018. Funding is available in the General Fund.”
This would allow the library to be open four additional hours, from 1-5 PM on Sundays.
Screeeeech… Wait a minute.
Councilman Jim Lamerson warned in a recent press briefing, "So, I’m just sharing it with you that there probably will be a little bit of controversy on that…”
On the one hand, library advocates, in voting for Prop 443, did so in hopes that the stress on the General Fund (which funds the Library) would be relieved so the quality of life issues could be re-addressed.
"If it was me, and I felt like there was a group that advocated for a tax measure for one of the things that had been previously taken away, such as hours of the library, and they were advocates of the library, well, you could probably draw a correlation,” City Manager Michael Lamar said.
On the other hand, taxpayers were promised that every extra dollar available would be used to pay down the PSPRS liability, so that the tax could be retired as soon as possible.
Councilman Jim Lamerson, who was also an unrelenting advocate for Prop 443, feels an obligation to keep his word. “Go back to the promise to the taxpayers that we would use any and all money available in any and all funds to pay up the liability of the pension fund sooner rather than later,” Lamerson said. "That was the major, key obligation that we made to the taxpayer voters and residents of Prescott. When you look at that, while it doesn’t sound like a lot of money, the City was not put in harm’s way over the last several months that the Library hasn’t been open on Sunday, you haven’t had a failure in the City of calamitous proportion. You have to kind of look at, I promised, I promised, the voters of the City that we would use every and all means possible to pay up the liability as quick as we could to save on the interest. So, when you look at that, it puts people like me in a very awkward position…”
Sunday Hours Cost Estimate
How much will this cost? In the agenda packet, the estimate is broken down by personnel expenses and utilities:
Personnel Requirements for opening Sunday hours Oct. 8, 2017-June 30, 2018.
Two (2) Part-time temporary Circulation Library Assistants: $10,348.80
One (1) Part-time temporary Adult Services Librarian: $12,038.40
One (1) Part-time temporary Youth Services/Adult Librarian: $ 6,688.00
One (1) Part-time temporary Youth Services Librarian: $ 4,514.40
(pay adjustment for current employee)
Subtotal for new positions and pay adjustment: $33,589.60
In addition to the above positions, the following short term coverage during October to allow for hiring and training of new employees will be required:
Three (3) Part-time temporary Circulation Library Assistants: $ 220.00
One (1) Part-time temporary Adult Services Librarian: $ 633.60
Total for October coverage with current staff: $ 853.60
In addition to the personnel costs, estimated costs for electricity and water for Sunday use Oct 2017-June 2018 will be:
Electricity: $ 7,200.00
Water: $ 1,000.00
Total personnel cost: $34,443.20
Total estimated utilities cost: $ 8,200.00
TOTAL ESTIMATED COST: $42,643.20
Lamerson has another idea. "Now, I have no problem having the Library open up all seven days using volunteers… You can train volunteers to have oversight on your public property, just like we do COPs (Citizens on Patrol) that drive our police cars. I’m not so sure that it’s in the best interest of the taxpayers who went ahead and did this [voted for Prop 443] to start setting up a slush fund of quality of life issues to absorb consequential amounts of money from the General Fund while we still have not paid up our liability to the pension fund.”
"What I’m saying is,” Lamerson reiterated, “We promised the taxpayers that if they passed 443, we would pay up the liability as soon as possible and we would use any and all funds. That’s what I’m saying.”
When asked why shifts can’t be altered to cover the extra hours open, City Manager Michael Lamar responded, “I can tell you this. Whether this goes or doesn’t go, that kind of dialog needs to be had.”
Lamar explained that some council members have approached him, wanting to get this done as quickly as possible. "The quickest, easiest way to do this is to find bodies to put in these [positions], right? If this becomes something that happens, I’m going to ask Mr. Saft to look at ways in FY19 to staff it without having to have all this part time help, to find some ways to alter shifts. I just can’t do it tomorrow.”
The job descriptions are already prepared for posting on the City’s website. “These would be temporary, part time jobs without benefits to close the gap for however many months, and then go from there if we were going to go forward with this in the future,” Lamar said, noting that there would be no Sunday or overtime-like pay.
Lamar is looking forward to the council discussion, expecting it to provide some clarity and direction.
“It might be that Council says, ‘We want you to find a way to do this at 50% of the cost,’” Lamar said. “And that’s ok, too.”
“You have to set realistic goals and expectations,” Lamerson said. "One of the things that we told the public… That we were going to pay up the Pension fund using any and all available money as soon as possible. Then the first thing out of the bucket that we do, the very minute we get it passed, is to go back and spend, spend, spend without looking at whether we’d be better off sending that $42,000 down with the last $11 million.”
Lamerson returned to his main point. “When our obligation to the Pension Fund has been fulfilled, we can address what money we have available.”
In the meantime, Barbe has 1500 more votes postcards to deliver, many from voting residents.
The Council meeting starts at 3 PM today in City Hall.