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Libraries survive first phase of budget cuts

By Times editorial
Published July 20, 2007


If you were upset that local libraries were going to be closed or their hours reduced because of budget cuts, don't assume you will be forced to cut back on your reading habit.

With more solid budget numbers now in hand, several local cities are backing off from earlier comments that libraries would suffer devastating budget cuts to meet the state Legislature's mandate to roll back local tax rates.

Clearwater officials, for instance, had indicated that budget cuts might be achieved in part by closing the Clearwater Beach library branch. However, it appears the library may get a break. The Clearwater City Council tentatively agreed to keep the library branch open by moving it into the Clearwater Beach Recreation Center, another city facility the city earlier had proposed be closed, and operating the two facilities as one. In a workshop Monday, City Council members leaned toward cutting taxes a little less in order to save the library and rec center.

The Largo City Commission had planned to cut Sunday hours at the Largo Library, even though 80,000 people visited the city's great new library on Sunday last year. Some 14 library-related jobs also would be eliminated. The cut was going to be necessary to meet the state requirements, the city said.

But this week, commissioners were talking about trying to save the library hours because "people are starting to call us like crazy" to lobby against that and other proposed cuts to popular services, Mayor Pat Gerard said.

The Palm Harbor Library was looking at a budget cut of $43,000, but director Gene Coppola planned to do some creative slicing to prevent a reduction in library hours. For example, patrons might not be able to keep books out as long, might find fewer new DVDs on the shelves and might have fewer summer programs to choose from, he said. But at least the doors would be open.

The importance of public libraries only grows as residents of these communities struggle with their own personal budgets. Rising costs for essentials such as housing, insurance, food and utilities are well-documented in Florida, and it is getting harder to make ends meet. People who once would have bought a new book at a bookstore now might be more inclined to borrow it from the library. Those who previously had enough expendable income to pay for their family entertainment may now rely on free or low-cost programming offered at libraries or other government-operated facilities.

City budgets will not be finalized until later this summer, but if the proposed reprieves for libraries hold, that will be good news for those who love and use libraries.

However, the reprieve may be temporary. This is only the first phase of the state-mandated budget cuts. The Legislature also approved caps that will affect future budgets. And Floridians will vote in January on whether to implement a super homestead exemption that also would eat into the bottom lines of local governments.

Better check out that bestseller while you can.

[Last modified July 19, 2007, 22:48:29]

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