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Library expansion in budget

Safety Harbor opts to add on to its public library instead of putting the idea up for a vote.

Published July 27, 2007


SAFETY HARBOR - With or without Harry Potter, this is a city of voracious readers.

Last year, 183,233 people checked out the Safety Harbor Public Library. This year's count may even be higher than that. As of Thursday, more than 134,000 have visited, taking advantage of the many programs and services it provides.

The popularity has prompted city leaders for years to plan to build a hefty 9,300-square-foot expansion to the 15,000-square-foot library at 101 Second St. N.

"It is small," said Cindy Bunner of Clearwater who, along with her two children, is a library regular. "It would be wonderful if it was bigger."

So it came as somewhat of a shock to library director Lana Bullian and other library supporters last week when Vice Mayor Kathleen Earle and City Commissioner James McCormick floated the idea of putting a referendum on next year's ballot to see if residents still wanted to spend such a large amount of money on a library expansion.

Like all local governments in Florida, Safety Harbor must reduce property tax collections next year under a legislative mandate. And local governments face uncertainty that voters may decide in January to roll back property taxes even more.

The financial reality has prompted Pinellas County, for example, to strip $43,000 from the Palm Harbor Public Library's budget next year, resulting in cuts in book acquisitions and next summer's children's programs.

A new ballot measure on the Safety Harbor library expansion would "let the voters decide," McCormick said.

But Mayor Andy Steingold opposed the idea.

"The library is a rock in the community," he said.

Commissioners ultimately agreed to maintain the library expansion as a capital improvement project in the next budget year.

City leaders have set aside $3.9-million for the project and hired Long and Associates, a Tampa firm, to design the addition.

Plans include new meeting spaces, a business resource center, additional computer terminals, a teen area, a story hour room, study room, more educational materials, an expanded bookstore and perhaps a coffee cafe.

Also, the existing facility will be refurbished and a new air-conditioning system will be installed.

The city is also planning to increase the library's operating budget from $925,204 this year to $1.1-million in 2007-08.

Eileen Schulte can be reached at 727 445-4153 or

[Last modified July 26, 2007, 22:35:41]

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