Library fears tax plan will slice funding

Published May 14, 2007

The Gulf Beaches Public Library will be anticipating the effects of the state's new tax plan when the beach communities meet to renew their funding agreement this month.

The library draws about half of its funding from Madeira Beach, where it is located, Treasure Island and the Redingtons. The agreement breaks down their contributions by population and usage.

Last year, the cities contributed nearly $270, 000.

Jan Horah, the library's director, said it is operating on a tight budget, leading to limited hours and a reliance on volunteers. The library needs the local support to survive.

"I really can't see any alternate ways of this little community getting other funding, " Horah said.

Mayors and city representatives met several weeks ago to discuss the new agreement. They plan to continue with the status quo, but may need to revisit the issue once the new tax plan is established.

"We're just kind of on hold, " said Bill Queen, mayor of North Redington Beach. "It's a wait-and-see game, like everyone else, to see how it's going to affect us."

Leaders from Treasure Island and Madeira Beach, the communities that contribute most of the funding, said that the library funding was just one of the areas that would be affected by budget cuts.

Anything that is not an issue of life and safety could be affected, said Mary Maloof, mayor of Treasure Island. "We've got to keep our police, we've got to keep our fire department."

Mary Brown, executive director of the Pinellas Public Library Cooperative, said that the Gulf Beaches Library is not alone. Of the 13 libraries in Pinellas County, each is heavily funded by local contribution. When budgets get tight, libraries lose out.

"I can't imagine that the libraries are going to be held harmless through this whole process and, in fact, if tradition holds true, we're going to be first on the chopping block, " Brown said.

Brown said that could mean closing some branches, and cuts in hours, services and employees for others.

Fortunately, leaders in the communities support the Gulf Beach Library and value the services it provides for their residents.

"We're the only cultural institution on the beaches, there are no museums, no movie theatres, the library is it, " Horah said.

Mayor Charles Parker of Madeira Beach said the town would likely start elsewhere if the new tax plan makes cuts necessary.

"We'll be cutting out all sorts of little things, you won't have the fireworks on the Fourth of July, you won't have Christmas wreathes around the holidays, " he said.

City leaders plan to meet again later this month to discuss the agreement further. The current funding plan is expected to continue but everyone is still waiting for an answer about property taxes before they commit.

"The library is an important issue, " Queen said. "It serves all these communities here and the only other option we have would be to shut it down."

Nick Johnson can be reached at nickjohnson@sptimes.com or 893-8675.

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For information on the Gulf Beaches Public Library, visit gulfbeacheslib.org/news.php.