Sunland Park, NM’s city councilors Thursday decided to keep the library open, just one day after the library director was arrested. Sunland Park had been considering closing the library completely as part of the struggle to balance a massive budget shortfall on a tight Aug. 1 deadline.
After allegations of corruption in city government left the town without a mayor and several other administrators, the state stepped in. The budget proposed by The New Mexico Finance Department would have eliminated the $1.88 million deficit by cutting many services, including the library and the senior center.
That version failed to pass at a meeting on July 18, at which many library supporters spoke. On July 19 the presidents of the American Library Association (ALA) and Public Library Association (PLA) wrote to the council members, urging them not to cut library service. The Sunland Park library sees 2,500 visitors each month, including about 750 computer users. It circulates about 800 books per month.
Half the council members failed to appear at a special meeting scheduled for July 23, according to the Albuquerque Journal. And at the July 26 meeting, the city councilors narrowly failed to approve eliminating library staff funding, passing instead a measure which requires employee furloughs one day every other week, according to the Las Cruces Sun News.
The approved version reinstates funding for the library director position, but whether the current director will be available to fill that post is still up in the air. On Wednesday, library director Luz E. Vargas was arrested on charges of voter fraud, according to The Sun News.
Vargas allegedly registered a non-resident to vote in the municipal election and told her to vote for former mayor-elect Daniel Salinas (also in custody on charges including extortion, receiving kickbacks, fraud and bribery). In spite of Vargas’ unexpected absence, the library is currently maintaining normal hours, an employee told LJ.
According to KFOXTV.com, before the financial crisis, a proposed 2012-13 budget had allocated $148,000 to the library, $53,000 of which was Vargas’ salary. (Sunland Park Mayor Pro Tem Isabel Santos has said Vargas is overpaid and doesn’t have evidence in her employee file of her level of education.) Prior to her arrest, Vargas had suggested cutting the library back to 24 hours a week and about $69,000 in funding.
Besides Vargas, at least seven other people are facing voter fraud charges, including a former city councilor and the former senior center director, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, and three city employees have been fired.