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No hush among library backers in Treasure Island

TREASURE ISLAND — Residents flooded their commissioners' e-mail in-boxes this weekend with pleas to restore funding for the Gulf Beaches Public Library.

Library supporters are also expected to crowd the City Commission chambers tonight as the commission prepares to vote on its final approval for the city's property tax rate and its spending budget for the 2008-2009 fiscal year.

"I have been bombarded with e-mails," Mayor Mary Maloof said Tuesday. "Some of the stories tug at my heart. Our single moms really rely on the library for a lot of things — like the computers, story time for kids — it just doesn't speak well for my community."

She said one resident said her 8-year-old granddaughter is so upset, she wants to speak at the commission meeting at 6 tonight.

At its previous meeting, the commission refused to raise the tentative millage rate to the 2.5775 mills required to fully fund the library.

Instead the property tax rate was set at 2.4999 mills, a difference of about $20 per household. Even though a second vote is required to make it official, by law the commission can't raise the rate.

"The millage rate is locked in," Commissioner Robert Minning said Tuesday.

Although Minning voted against the library's $107,000 funding request, he said he also received many e-mails and is keeping his "options" open.

Those options include dipping into the city's shrinking fund balance or cutting the proposed 2008-2009 budget enough to generate the $107,000 needed to fund the library.

Minning admitted, however, that he is not in favor of either choice, particularly in an environment of shrinking property values and limitations on property tax levies.

Commissioner Alan Bildz, who also is on record against funding the library, said if the city's finances are "better" next year, the city might rejoin the library consortium.

"If we think this year is bad, wait until next," said Minning. "But I am in no way, shape or form against any library. A library is the foundation of civilization. And I personally realize the implications this has for our neighboring cities and our citizens."

Maloof, the only member of the Treasure Island Commission to vote against the library's funding cut, is hoping to generate a change of heart tonight.

"I am going to ask what it would take for the city to back the library," said Maloof. "I would like to see if we can make it work. The money would have to come out of reserves."

The Gulf Beaches Public Library, which is in Madeira Beach, is funded by a consortium of five communities — Madeira Beach, Redington Beach, North Redington Beach, Redington Shores and, until now, Treasure Island. Each community pays a portion of the library's budget, based on its population.

Treasure Island's decision this year that it could no longer afford to support the library caught the other member cities by surprise.

Treasure Island's cut of funding for the library has put the institution "in a very dangerous financial situation," according to Madeira Beach Mayor Pat Shontz.

Mayor Bill Queen of North Redington Beach and Redington Beach Mayor Nick Simons hope residents of Treasure Island will persuade the commission to restore funding and are opposed to suing their sister city to force them to fund the library under the terms of a contract among the five beach communities.

"Litigation is not the way to go," said Queen.

Complicating that option is the existence of two versions of the contract. Some cities signed one version, others signed the other. Treasure Island has no signed copy of the version that allows a member city to opt out of the financing arrangement for the library.

"Pursuing litigation is the least attractive option," said Simons, who is also chairman of the library's board of trustees.

He said because Treasure Island only recently decided to cut library funding, it does not leave the other member towns enough time to replace the library's shortfall.

He said if Treasure Island does not restore library funding, the library will be forced to dip into its capital fund reserves to operate, at least through January. By that time Simons said sale of $100 annual library cards to Treasure Island residents may be enough to replace the city's canceled funding.

"Our goal will be to make it easy for Treasure Island residents to buy library cards for our library," he said.

The problem for the Gulf Beaches Public Library is that if residents buy their cards at other libraries, the money will not be available to the library in Madeira Beach.

>>IF YOU GO

Budget vote

The meeting is at 6 p.m. today at Treasure Island City Hall at 120 108th Ave.

No hush among library backers in Treasure Island 09/16/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 17, 2008 2:27pm]
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