KINGMAN - When he's not playing guitar and singing under London Bridge in Lake Havasu City, Richard Behmetuik is researching the history of Mohave County and Arizona at public libraries.
He's heard people at the Kingman Library talk about the 10-cent cut in Mohave County Library District's tax rate, which will result in a projected revenue loss of $1.9 million in 2016, and he's worried about the library's future.
"I think they should keep the library for the kids," Behmetuik said Friday during a break from reading magazines at Kingman Library. "People want more knowledge. You've got self-help books here and history books on Kingman and Arizona that kids need to grow up with."
The Mohave County Board of Supervisors on July 20 voted unanimously to reduce the library district's tax rate from 32 cents to 22 cents for every $100 of assessed property value, taking the library's portion of property tax collection from $5.7 million in 2015 to an estimated $3.8 million in fiscal 2016.
The library tax cut was approved to offset a 15-cent increase in primary property tax rates as part of the fiscal 2016 county budget. Combined with a 5-cent cut in the TV District tax, the property tax increase is "net neutral," supervisors said.
Kathy Pennell, director of the Mohave County Library, said she's going to do the best she can with the reduced budget and continue to provide services that citizens need
at the district's three main branches and seven community libraries.
"You saw the computer use and what's really going crazy is access to our wireless (Internet)," Pennell said during an interview in her administration office. "That's our biggest growth. People have their smart phones and tablets and they're connecting to our wireless. We had 121,000 connections to wireless last year."
There were 710,000 county library visits in 2014, down from 739,000 visits in the previous year. Part of the decrease is attributable to more people downloading digital library materials on their mobile devices, saving a trip to the library, Pennell said.
Behmetuik was among several dozen people visiting Kingman Library on Friday morning, some of them reading at desks, others occupying the library's 27 computer terminals and a few working on personal computers and tablets.
The library offers reading programs for youths, teens and adults, and hosts the popular wildlife series presented by Arizona Game and Fish. It's also a venue for special events such as Kingman Concert Band performances and America's Best Communities citizen forums.
"Particularly in the rural areas, sometimes they're the community center, the only place where people can gather and meet," Pennell said.
Along with main branches in Kingman, Bullhead City and Lake Havasu City, the library district operates community libraries in Golden Shores, Fort Mohave, Golden Valley, Valle Vista, Chloride, Dolan Springs and Meadview.
A bookmobile serves Wikieup, Yucca, Cedar Hills, Truxton, Peach Springs, White Hills and the Arizona Strip.
Slicing away roughly one-third of the library district's tax revenue won't affect hours of operation or staffing, at least not this year, but it will take the district's reserve funds from about $3 million to $1.4 million.
"It's a fine line that government has in taking enough money and not taking enough," Supervisor Buster Johnson said in a telephone interview. "We already have $6.3 million set aside (in the building fund) and more than enough money in contingency. That's what government should do, raise and lower taxes according to the needs each year."
It's easy to leave a tax at a level everyone has become used to paying, but the library district had excessive contingency funds, and bringing that down to 25 percent of the total budget should be enough, Johnson said.
Pennell was told the library tax would be part of the county's proposed budget discussion on the morning of the July 20 board meeting.
"Even so, when the discussion arose, I was surprised and concerned at the amount of the reduction that was being proposed," she said.
The $6.3 million building fund appropriated to expanding Kingman Library will remain untouched, County Administrator Mike Hendrix promised. "We're just not moving forward right now," he said.
The reduction in funding should have minimal effect on library operations this year, Pennell said. The board adopted the library's $5.4 million operating budget as submitted.
However, if the library tax cut is not reinstated next year, a portion of the building fund will be needed for operations and maintenance, or operational expenses and services will have to be reduced, the library director said.
Pennell said she was never under the impression that supervisors didn't support the library. Even in the age of Google research and Kindle books, the library continues to serve a purpose, she said.
Libraries have been evolving for hundreds of years in response to changing trends in society and they will continue to do so, she said.
"While the Internet is a great resource for finding information, it is not a replacement for libraries," Pennell said. "The library serves as a great equalizer, offering access to materials, information and technology to everyone, not just those who can afford it."
For more information on Mohave County Library programs, visit the district website at www.mohavecountylibrary.info/.
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