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Palm Harbor Library decries budget woes

Cutbacks in staff and operating hours, an inability to purchase new books, and limiting special programs are three examples of struggles that Palm Harbor Library director Gene Coppola has reckoned with in recent years.

With its main source of support coming from Pinellas County, the library has seen budget cuts for five years in a row. For the upcoming fiscal year of 2013, officials have already let it be known that it won't be any different.

"The county has already told us the 2013 budget would need to be decreased by 4 percent,'' Coppola said. "It's not that I don't understand the economic difficulties, but frankly, as you continue to do more with less, anybody, in any job, whether it's in the public or the private sector, will begin to feel the stress."

And that is why next Thursday, when Coppola attends a work session with the Pinellas County Commission to discuss his 2013 budget, he'll request that the local property tax rate go back to its original one-half mill for library and recreation services in Palm Harbor.

"This would mean about $93,000 a year would come into the library, and another $93,000 to the recreation department,'' Coppola said.

In 1985, residents of unincorporated Palm Harbor voted to tax themselves so they could receive library and recreation services. An appointed board of residents, called the Palm Harbor Community Services Agency, was set up to govern the two departments. At that time, voters agreed to a tax of one-quarter mill for library services and one-quarter mill for parks and recreation.

One-quarter mill raises 25 cents in tax on every $1,000 of taxable property value. Under that rate, a resident with a home with a taxable value of $100,000 after all exemptions would pay $25 for library services and $25 for recreation services each year.

However, in 2007, the county commission lowered the total millage rate from .50 to .4378.

Do the county commissioners have the authority to increase it once again?

They can, according to Barry Lupiani, one of the Pinellas County budget managers. "It was lowered when the Florida Legislature issued a mandate for rollbacks,'' he said. "And yes, the commission does have the power to do that.''

Erica Lynford, who took her post as director of Palm Harbor Parks and Recreation one year ago, also plans to attend the work session. She will join Coppola in making the request.

"Nobody likes to hear about higher taxes, but I don't think taxpayers ever have really understood what receiving the full millage rate would mean. It would mean that for $1 to $2 each month, residents would receive the benefits they deserve,'' she said. "And I am one of the taxpayers I'm talking about because I live here in Palm Harbor.''

Piper Castillo is reachable at pcastillo@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4163.

Palm Harbor Library decries budget woes 05/17/12 [Last modified: Thursday, May 17, 2012 9:05pm]
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