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Palm Harbor, East Lake concerned about cities' proposed library agreement

PALM HARBOR — The interlocal agreement that created the Pinellas Public Library Cooperative about 20 years ago expires in fall 2013, and for much of this year, government officials have been talking about how to continue the countywide library system.

But officials with two libraries in unincorporated North Pinellas say they are being left out of the conversation.

In November, a committee of city managers sent a draft of a new interlocal library agreement to Pinellas County commissioners.

Palm Harbor and East Lake, which both have libraries in the cooperative, are unincorporated, so they don't have city managers. Officials there first learned that a preliminary agreement had been drafted when they received a copy.

That worries Marcus Harrison, a member of the Palm Harbor Community Services Agency, an appointed board that oversees the Palm Harbor Library and the East Lake Community Library.

Harrison, as PHCSA's representative, attended preliminary meetings with the County Commission and the library co-op earlier this year. He's concerned that the city managers went ahead with a draft agreement, and he hopes Palm Harbor and East Lake will have more participation in the final drafting process.

Otherwise, he said, what the city managers did could look like they ". . . want to stack the deck so they get more money.''

The Pinellas Public Library Cooperative was created to ensure that residents of unincorporated parts of the county can receive library services from municipal libraries. Those residents pay a tax, which is distributed among the member libraries according to a funding formula.

Twelve cities with libraries are members of the co-op: Clearwater, Dunedin, Gulf Beaches, Gulfport, Largo, Oldsmar, Pinellas Park, Safety Harbor, St. Pete Beach, St. Petersburg, Seminole and Tarpon Springs.

East Lake, an area that historically has seen higher property values than other places in the county, pays more into the system "than it gets out,'' Harrison said.

At last week's PHCSA meeting, Roger Johnson, a member of the East Lake Community Library Advisory Board, encouraged PHCSA members to attend a Jan. 22 County Commission workshop where the interlocal agreement is scheduled to be discussed.

"If you could (get people) down there, it would help. We want to make sure they are not taking advantage of us up here,'' Johnson said.

The workshop, to be held at St. Petersburg College's Collaborative Labs in Largo, will center around a consultant's report on the library co-op, said co-op executive director Mary Brown.

Rex Haslam, who chairs the PHCSA board, plans to write to county commissioners to share the board's concerns.

"I expect the county commissioners to help negotiate a fair agreement for all of us in the library system,'' he said. "My main concern as the head representative for PHCSA is just that the two entities, East Lake and Palm Harbor libraries, are fairly represented.''

Brown understands that residents of East Lake and Palm Harbor are looking at this from their "personal point of view,'' she said.

"But our board's concern is that we keep a cooperative library system that is maintaining the connectivity, the seamless movement between libraries, that was started 20 years ago,'' she said. Palm Harbor and East Lake "should not be the overriding concern of the balance of the county library users,'' she said.

The final draft of the interlocal agreement hasn't been completed yet, she said. "This is the time for them to write a letter and share their concerns.''

Piper Castillo can be reached at (727) 445-4163 or pcastillo@tampabay.com.

Palm Harbor, East Lake concerned about cities' proposed library agreement 12/25/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 25, 2012 3:30am]
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