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Impact fees to pay for library projects

The county will build a new library near the current East Hernando Branch and put an addition on the West Hernando/S.T. Foggia Branch.

© St. Petersburg Times
published March 16, 2003

It's that rarest of things in these lean times: a building project that the county actually has money to start and complete.

Over the past several years, Hernando County's public library system has been accumulating impact fees from new construction, intending to cover expansion costs. The amount collected stands at just under $1.4-million, with $125,000 coming in annually.

County officials have decided to spend the money on a new library near the current East Hernando Branch, which is in a shopping center in Ridge Manor West, and on an addition to the West Hernando/S.T. Foggia Branch in Spring Hill.

Plans are being drawn up for both projects. County budget director George Zoettlein said enough money is in reserve to build the new library and enough being generated every year to cover debt service on bonds for the expansion project.

"The money is there," Zoettlein said. "It's like a dedicated revenue source. It's either this or nothing."

Library expansion has proven controversial in the past. In 1995, library director John Callahan packed his bags and left for a job in Newport Beach, Calif., after voters narrowly defeated a referendum to build a $5.6-million library on Spring Hill Drive in Spring Hill.

At the time, the county's system was one of the most poorly stocked in the state. Callahan said he left disenchanted, calling Newport Beach a place where "the climate for libraries is better."

Eight years later, library infrastructure and collection size is still unimpressive.

Currently, Hernando County ranks 58th among 67 Florida counties in terms of library square footage per resident. There has been no space increase since 1994. In 2002, the collection had 1.65 volumes per resident, compared with 1.4 volumes in 1995, but the ratio was still lower than the state average of 1.8.

Sharon Neville, current president of the Library Advisory Committee, a volunteer group, is a former librarian who moved to Hernando County from Michigan 12 years ago. Neville said she has seen incremental improvement in the system, but that as population grows, standards for what is considered an acceptable library system must change.

"We have a lot of work to do," she said.

County library director Barbara Shiflett, a 21-year veteran of the system, said more children, parents and young adults have started to use services. Demand for Internet access and youth programs is up, she said, and support for expansion more widespread than ever.

"We are trying to meet the needs of the patrons," she said. "The needs are just unbelievable."

The East Hernando Branch occupies 6,000 square feet of Sunrise Plaza on Cortez Boulevard near Interstate 75. The county rents the space for $53,000 a year. The 7-acre site for the new library is two blocks west on Cortez at Windmere Road and is owned by the county Utilities Department.

Once home to a wastewater treatment center, oak trees and a pump station occupy the land. Utilities officials are ready to part with the property for $70,000. The planned library would be 8,500 square feet.

"It's a good location," said utilities director Kay Adams. "There's not a whole lot of residential around there."

Plans for the West Hernando Branch, on Blackbird Avenue near U.S. 19, are less developed. There is no land acquisition involved. Adding onto the existing structure is envisioned.

The county Engineering Department is working on designing the projects, a job that should be completed within three to six months.

-- Will Van Sant covers Hernando County government and can be reached at 754-6127. Send e-mail to .

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