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Libraries fall behind population growth

The county looks at an impact fee to help bring libraries in line with the changing demographics.

By SAUNDRA AMRHEIN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 3, 2002

Sure, a growing community needs to stock its fire stations with trucks and fix roads. But what about firing the imagination of a youngster reading Dr. Seuss for the first time, library officials ask.

As Pasco continues to absorb young families at booming rates, the county needs to keep pace with the crucial public service of providing libraries, they say.

This week the County Commission voted unanimously to accept a master plan for libraries and to direct its staff to prepare an ordinance that would create an impact fee of about $145 for single-family homes to help pay for items on its wish list through 2010.

Those items include: a new regional library in the Trinity area at 30,000 square feet and a new library in Wesley Chapel at 12,000 square feet; expansions at three of the seven existing county libraries; a bookmobile that would serve rural communities; more computers with Internet access; and expansion of hours and its collection.

"I think a public library says a lot about a community," Barbe Bonjour, libraries director of the Pasco County Library System, said this week after the meeting with county commissioners.

"I think a community needs a balance. It needs libraries as well as everything else," she said.

And libraries are no longer just about books, she said. In an era of galloping technology changes, many turn to libraries for computer and Internet access, electronic books, databases, books on tape, DVDs, as well as book clubs and discussion groups.

The libraries have not been expanded since 1992, Bonjour said. And yet, the county has.

"When you walk into the library now," she said about several of the system's buildings, "it's one large room and we've had to create a corner of the room for children's services. Maybe in 1990 that wasn't such a big issue, but in the 10-12 years since then . . . with so many young families, the demographics have changed.

"The need for children's services is more important now, and they don't have space," she said. "It's hard when you have to set up computers and have an area for adult research and children in the same place."

In 1990, the library system had three computers, and they were used by administrative secretaries, she said. Now 62 computers with access to the Internet sit available to the public. But the master plan recommends 290 by 2010.

The system currently holds 505,000 volumes on the shelves of its seven facilities, according to the master plan devised by consultants Wade-Trim Inc. of Tampa. That amounts to 1.52 books per person, well below the national average of 2.81 books per person.

The master plan recommends raising the collection level to 860,000 volumes by 2010 to meet the state standard of 2.2 books per person.

Wesley Chapel, targeted for a new library, feels the pinch most. Two years ago, the library system conducted a study of its reciprocal, or book sharing, program, where members of one county's library system could borrow books from another county's libraries.

About 90 percent of the 5,000-6,000 Pasco County residents enrolled in the program had Wesley Chapel zip codes, she said.

Also, of the 200,000 items borrowed through a 12-county west central Florida sharing program, 70 percent of those items were by Pasco County residents. Although the problem is easy to spot, the solution is another story.

Impact fees proposed by Wade-Trim -- $145 per single-family homes and $97 per multifamily home units -- would raise $6.2-million a year. The needs outlined in the plan total $17.8-million in capital costs and $3.2-million in operating costs, the consultants told the commission.

Bonjour said she hopes the difference could be raised either through a future increase in the county's share of the sales tax -- an idea recently put on the back burner by county commissioners -- or a special taxing district for libraries and parks.

Despite a slew of impact fees to pay for roads, schools and parks, Bonjour thinks the public would support another for libraries.

"The county does face a lot of difficult choices because of growth," she said.

But libraries must keep pace with the new population, just like roads, to keep its residents educated and help children become successful adults, she added.

"Adults who are productive members of society are going to help the tax base better," she said. "A library is a long-term investment."

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