MADEIRA BEACH — Reacting to increasing pressure from its member towns to reduce expenses, the Gulf Beaches Public Library Board of Directors voted Monday to cut library hours by nearly 25 percent.
The library's financial difficulties began last month when Treasure Island, hit hard by falling revenues, decided to cancel its expected $107,000 contribution to the five-town library cooperative budget.
Madeira Beach then reduced its contribution by about $7,000 and guaranteed money for only three months.
So far, the other member towns — Redington Beach, North Redington Beach and Redington Shores — have all pledged to continue funding the library but have told library officials they expect expenses to be cut.
"We need to see where the library is going to cut," Madeira Beach Commissioner Terry Lister said during a commission meeting last week. "As soon as we see a proper budget, we will continue to pay our share. We just don't want to throw money out there and hope it goes to the right place."
Lister also suggested that "somebody is going to have to get fired" to make up for the library's shortfall.
Madeira Beach's library board representative Denise Adis then accused Lister and other Madeira Beach commissioners of trying to "blackmail" the library.
To that, Commissioner Steve Kochick sharply replied, "We are giving you money and we want to know where our money is going."
Much of Monday's board meeting was spent looking for areas to cut from the budget. Even though it cut about $20,000, the library is still short nearly $100,000 in meeting its annual operating expenses, including salaries.
The board previously approved dipping into its reserves to cover operating expenses for the next three months while it is revising its budget.
"You've got to do something and do it quickly," warned Redington Shores Mayor Jody Armstrong. "If you don't, the towns will not continue to support a losing venture."
In one surprise, library director Jan Horah told the board the library has an extra $302,000 in its operating checking account, mostly left over from revenues received in previous years from the county library cooperative.
When added to the library's reserves, Horah acknowledged the library has about $500,000 in cash in addition to the revenues it expects to collect this year from its remaining four member towns and the county.
"It appears we are in a pretty healthy financial situation," said library board chairman Nick Simons, "but if we do nothing we will deplete our money. We can't continue to operate at our current rate."
The size of the library's cash position surprised both board members and those in the audience.
At one point, Madeira Beach City Manager W.D. Higgenbotham Jr. said the library "is building reserves at the expense of the cities."
He also stressed, however, that his city "wants very much for this library to stay alive and active".
In deciding to cut library hours, the library board members said they hoped to generate enough savings to balance their budget. They acknowledged the move will probably mean a significant cut in staff hours and possibly positions.
No date was set for the reduced hours to begin, but the board did accept Armstrong's offer to help the board review schedules and potential savings.
Currently, the library is open 53 hours for six days a week, including two evenings and all day Saturday. The library is closed on Sundays.
The new hours will cut that schedule to 40 hours a week.
"If we don't do something difficult, we're going to have a tough time," said board member Sharon Danielsen.