CLEARWATER — The city's Beach Branch Library is a short walk from the Gulf of Mexico, and its windows offer tantalizing views of the Intracoastal Waterway.
But if you want to spend time there reading, using a computer or enjoying the view, you have just four hours each weekday to do it.
That doesn't sit well with Shannon Rhodes.
"The hours stink," said the 40-year-old beach resident, who visits the tiny branch located inside the Beach Recreation Complex several times a week.
The library is only open from 1 to 5 p.m. weekdays. Rhodes uses the computer to look for a job and says longer hours would help her in her quest.
"Like normal business hours. And weekend hours would be nice," she said.
A group of beach residents has become increasingly organized and vocal in recent months, asking the city to at least restore hours cut several years ago during the recession. Before the fiscal hit, the library doors were open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with one evening having extended hours until 8 p.m.
The branch has never been open on the weekend, said Barbara Pickell, the city's library director.
Utilities and janitorial services aren't a problem, as the library shares space with the recreation complex. But the library department's budget, which has remained flat for the last three years, has no money to spare for the extra librarian needed to open the branch in the mornings.
"They want their morning hours back. The senior citizen community loves their morning hours," said Pickell.
That's unlikely to happen, said Mayor George Cretekos. The city is planning to use $1.4 million in reserve funds just to break even in its general fund for the coming fiscal year.
"It's difficult to try and expand services when you don't have enough money to pay for current services," Cretekos said. "I realize that they are very passionate, but as I've explained repeatedly, there are people in North Greenwood asking for same thing for their library or in Countryside or at the East Library."
The city estimates that it would cost $25,000 to extend the beach library's hours. That's an investment Clearwater is able to afford, said Wendy Hutkin, the Clearwater Beach Association's president.
"We can afford it. Our neighborhood and community really wants it," she said.
A new group, Friends of the Clearwater Beach Library, has formed to lobby for more hours, Hutkin said.
However, Pickell said her $6 million budget just doesn't have the wiggle room. As it is, a drop in county funding of $78,0000 means that fewer new books, DVDs, magazines and other materials will be ordered in the coming year. Donation funds will cover about $30,000 of the shortfall, but patrons will notice longer waits for new books and fewer volumes on the shelves, she said.
Charlie Frago can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4159. You can follow him on Twitter @CharlieFrago. To write a letter to the editor, visit tampabay.com/letters or mail to 1130 Cleveland St., Suite 100A, Clearwater, FL 33755.