Originally Published: September 27, 2017 5:50 a.m.
A 21-month Sunday shutdown at the Prescott Public Library will come to an end this weekend, when the library is expected to open on the afternoon of Oct. 1.
The Sunday opening will come just days after the Prescott City Council’s unanimous decision on Tuesday, Sept. 26, to restore the library’s Sunday hours.
Prescott City Manager Michael Lamar said after the meeting that the library would have a “soft opening” this weekend, with a grand-opening event scheduled later.
During his introduction of the proposed move to the council, Lamar emphasized that restoring the Sunday hours would not be an expansion of the library’s services. Rather, he said, “It would be going back to what was normal before (January 2016).”
The closure of the library on Sundays was one of the impacts of the City Council’s November 2015 decision to cut more than $1 million from the budget in response to the city’s escalating costs for the Public Safety Personnel Retirement System (PSPRS).
As a part of the cuts, the city trimmed $50,000 in part-time-position costs at the library – a move that led to the Sunday closure, starting Jan. 2, 2016.
For the past year and three-quarters, the library has operated on a six-day-a-week schedule.
During the recent campaign for Proposition 443 (the 0.75-percent sales tax-increase measure that appeared on the city’s primary ballot this past August for paying down the PSPRS debt), restoration of the Sunday hours was among the goals of proposition’s proponents.
After voters approved the proposition on Aug. 29, Lamar said he had been approached by a number of City Council members about restoring the library’s hours. “This is really important to a lot of people who live here and work here,” he said.
Several council members expressed strong support this week for spending the $42,643 that would be needed to restore the library’s Sunday hours through June 30, 2018 (the end of the current fiscal year).
Councilman Steve Blair, who had warned throughout the primary campaign that rejection of Proposition 443 would bring severe cuts to city services, said, “443 has passed; our revenue dollars are there, so I am in support of opening the library (on Sundays).”
Councilman Steve Sischka added that he was “somewhat confused about priorities in Prescott,” after a recent proposal to spend more than $40,000 for speed limit signs in the city’s alleys had generated little or no community opposition, while the library-hour proposal had brought up a host of questions. (The council ultimately decided against the speed-limit-sign expenditure).
Of the move to restore the library’s Sunday hours, Sischka said, “It seems that this is a quality-of-life issue, and I am 1,000-percent behind it.”
Still, Mayor Harry Oberg voiced reservations about the move, questioning the timing. “I’m not sure this is the right time to do it,” he said, adding that the restoration of the Sunday hours amounted to “a want rather than a need.”
And former City Councilman Chris Kuknyo, who was among the opponents of Proposition 443, asked: “Did we have to close the library down to begin with?”
Referring to the money that was in the city’s general fund reserve account at the time, Kuknyo said, “We had $15 million in rainy-day funds, and it was raining. Was (closure of the library) just a scary way to pass Proposition 443?”
Oberg ultimately joined the six other council members to vote for restoring the library’s Sunday hours. After the meeting, he explained: “I think we should take a look at the priorities of the city manager … and it seemed like this was one he felt was necessary to fund.”
Lamerson, who also brought up concerns about the expenditure during the meeting, said he voted in favor with the understanding that the city’s Library Advisory Board would review the matter.
Along with the “tremendous (general-fund) stabilizing effect” from the passage of Proposition 443, Lamar noted that the city’s existing sales tax revenues had exceeded expectations by about $93,000 during July and August 2017. In addition, he said, the library had come in under budget by about $60,000 annually in recent years.
“For all those reasons, I think appropriating $42,643 to make sure this happens for our community is financially doable,” Lamar said.
The library will be open from 1 to 5 p.m. on Sundays, similar to its schedule before the 2016 budget cuts.