BROOKSVILLE — Although they said they support the county's library system, Hernando County commissioners on Tuesday opted not to create a separate taxing unit to provide designated funding for libraries.
For the last several years, the library system has largely been run using State Aid for Libraries grants, but that funding has been spent down, and the amount added by the state each year has been diminishing.
That means that to keep the libraries operating at the same level during the next fiscal year, the county must either find a new source of funding or go back to paying for the system with money from the county's general fund.
Next year, the library budget is expected to be about $2.4 million, with only about $400,000 in grant funding available, officials reported.
The option brought forward Tuesday was to create a special taxing district that would raise money for libraries the same way the county already finances mosquito control, storm water management and emergency medical services.
The deadline for creating special districts is May 24, and officials wanted to vote on the library district in case the commission later wanted to consider levying a property tax to fund it.
While some residents came to the microphone to extol the virtues of a first-class library system, commissioners and a number of others who spoke balked at the idea of a special taxing unit.
Commissioner Wayne Dukes said using special taxing districts was simply a way to increase taxes, and he said it was the commission's job to find a way to pay for services through the general fund.
"I can't support this,'' Dukes said.
"All this is is another tax,'' said resident Joe Lemieux.
He noted that even with just a $25 increase in the tax bill for a home with a $50,000 taxable value, increases from multiple proposed taxing units would add up.
Former county Commissioner June Ester suggested that the county could pay for libraries by charging for library cards or approving a sales tax so everyone would pay.
"It would be the fairest way to make everybody pay,'' Ester said.
Creating the special taxing district would ensure a dedicated revenue stream for libraries into the future, Commissioner Diane Rowden argued.
She has been an advocate of special taxing units so residents can see what they pay for various county services. She didn't like the idea of charging fees for using the library. Allowing the system to fade away isn't an option either, she said, because without library services people won't choose to move to Hernando County.
Commission Chairman Dave Russell said he thought of the taxing district as "a feel good idea" that didn't really have any benefits.
"We can adjust the general fund rate as easily'' and still pay for library services, he said.
As for the argument that separate rates create more transparency, Russell said, "It will be delineated on our budget, but not on our (tax bill).'
"I think we understand that people want us to fund the libraries,'' he added, but said he didn't think that many people cared about seeing the service separated out on their tax bill.
Another drawback of funding services with what are known as municipal services taxing units is that, in some cases, the city of Brooksville would also have to agree to participate, Russell noted.
A motion to reject the MSTU for libraries passed 4-1, with Rowden in favor of creating the district.
Other MSTUs were also proposed to meet the May deadline: parks and recreation, law enforcement, economic development, unincorporated services and fire-rescue.
All of those, as well as a change in the existing mosquito control MSTU and consideration of a sales tax referendum for fire-rescue and emergency medical services, were deferred to the commission's meeting on May 14.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.