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Library asks for Treasure Island residents' help to restore funding

TREASURE ISLAND — The Gulf Beaches Public Library wants residents here to pressure the city to restore more than $100,000 in funding for the library.

In an e-mail sent to Treasure Island residents Friday, library director Jan Horah warned that without the money, they will have to pay $100 to use the library:

"If you enjoy reading, watching movies, attending programs, listening to CD books, surfing the Web, browsing through the latest best sellers, then you should be aware that you are on the verge of losing these privileges very soon."

The e-mail asks residents to attend the Treasure Island City Commission meeting at 6 p.m. Wednesday when the commission is scheduled to take a final vote on its millage rate and budget for the coming year.

The library's board of directors recently sent a letter to Treasure Island asking that it restore the funding. The board also formally designated lawyer Ken Weiss as its "pro bono" representative at the commission meeting.

"Supporting our public library is a civic duty and social responsibility rather than merely a budget line item to be eliminated," Weiss said Friday, stressing that the city's cost to support the library is less than $20 per household.

Treasure Island is one of five cities that financially support the Madeira Beach-based library. The others are Madeira Beach, Redington Beach, North Redington Beach and Redington Shores.

The commission has tentatively set a property tax rate of 2.4999 mills and approved a budget that eliminates money for the library. The decision was made over more than a dozen residents' objections.

Since then, City Manager Reid Silverboard said a number of residents have called City Hall or "come in to express their support for the library."

To restore library funding, Silverboard said the commission would have to tap its dwindling reserves, since by law it cannot increase property taxes beyond the rate set June 3.

"I understand that Treasure Island, like many other cities, is suffering from a budget crunch, but as a result of this failure to fund the library, the Gulf Beaches Public Library is in jeopardy," Weiss said.

Horah said the library already receives the smallest amount of funding in the county, when comparing community populations, and cannot absorb the funding cut.

The library serves almost 18,000 people. Its 2008-09 budget is based on the five member communities' total contribution of about $312,000.

In comparison, St. Pete Beach, which has a population of about 10,000, spends nearly a half-million dollars on its library, she said.

"We can't cut anything. We are down to bare bones," Horah said.

The library does have a contingency fund that could be tapped for a while to keep its doors open. The other member cities, also facing strained budgets, are unlikely to contribute more, according to Horah.

If Treasure Island does not change its mind, residents there will have to pay an annual $100 fee to use any of the county's libraries, including the one in Madeira Beach.

That fee, established by the countywide library consortium, is kept by the library where it is paid.

More than 3,600 Treasure Island residents use the Gulf Beaches library. If all bought library cards, the revenue would surpass the shortfall caused by Treasure Island eliminating the library from its budget.

Horah is worried that patrons of her library may pay the fee to the library on St. Pete Beach or in St. Petersburg. If they do, they can use the library in Madeira Beach, but the library won't get any of the revenue from the library card fees.

Further complicating the library's future is the status of the contract between the library and member cities. The problem is there are different versions, some signed and some not.

Treasure Island is basing its decision on a version that was approved last year but apparently not signed.

Library asks for Treasure Island residents' help to restore funding 09/13/08 [Last modified: Monday, September 15, 2008 3:36pm]
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