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    Library is getting raw deal, city says

    By MAUREEN BYRNE

    © St. Petersburg Times, published January 12, 2001


    SEMINOLE -- Believing the Seminole Library is shortchanged by the countywide library cooperative, the city has said it might one day turn away from an organization that gives its library $180,000 a year.

    And Seminole isn't the only Pinellas city dissatisfied with the Pinellas Public Library Cooperative. Grumbling from Clearwater, Largo, Dunedin and other cities prompted the county government to form a committee so libraries could have more say on funding.

    In Seminole, where the popular library is one of the icons of the community, city officials hope the committee makes a difference.

    "The co-op is a wonderful thing, but we are looking at other options in case there is a problem," said Harry Kyne, the city's director of administration.

    Seminole believes it deserves a bigger piece of the pie when it comes to co-op money. The budget for the Seminole library is $630,000, with $181,000 coming from the cooperative. Although the city has 14,000 residents, its library serves 70,000 who live in unincorporated mid Pinellas.

    "We feel Seminole is being underfunded (by the cooperative)," Kyne said. "We feel we're not getting our fair share."

    City Council members approved Tuesday a six-month extension of its current agreement with the co-op, but stressed that if the city's funding from the organization does not increase, it would pull out of the 15-member co-op in July.

    And the city is concerned it will get even less money from the library co-op if it continues to fund the East Lake Community Library.

    That library is not an original member of the cooperative, and it is not supported with any locally dedicated tax revenues. The cooperative's funding formula is largely based on how much each community taxes itself to support its own library.

    In 1989, residents in the unincorporated areas voted in favor of paying a half-mill of property tax to the cooperative, which then would distribute the money to the member libraries around the county.

    City Manager Frank Edmunds said he has concerns with the co-op's funding formula, specifically the payments being made to the East Lake library. Because no local tax dollars in East Lake are for operation of that specific library, East Lake does not fit into the co-op's funding formula.

    Realizing that East Lake's library -- just a year old -- needs money to operate, the co-op's board gave East Lake up to $200,000, then divided the rest of the money among the other 14 co-op members.

    More money for East Lake means less money for all of the other libraries in the cooperative.

    Kyne said the 70,000 unincorporated residents who live in the Seminole area generate $900,000 a year in property taxes to the co-op. The residents in East Lake contribute $800,000.

    The new co-op agreement gives $200,000 to East Lake, almost $20,000 more than what Seminole will receive.

    Edmunds, who supports the idea of a library cooperative, said the extension was a "six-month window of opportunity to rectify the situation."

    North Pinellas city managers and library directors recently met with Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Palm Harbor, to discuss the possibility of creating an East Lake library taxing district. Latvala is scheduled to discuss sponsoring such a bill at a hearing Jan. 18 of the Pinellas County legislative delegation.

    Seminole's library faces significant change in any event. It is building a joint library with St. Petersburg Junior College across 113th Street from the library's current location.

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