PALM HARBOR — Gene Coppola became the director of the Palm Harbor Library about 14 years ago, and he remembers his early days with fondness. There were enthusiastic, welcoming employees, eager library patrons and plenty of community support.
However, he also recalls a particular feeling.
"It was a feeling like being in a Marx Brothers routine,'' he said. "Our roof leaked, and when it would rain, we'd literally run around with about seven buckets to catch the water. It was crazy, but we finally were able to replace the roof and the a.c. units in 2002.''
To ensure that the Marx Brothers routine doesn't happen again, Coppola and a volunteer committee made up of library supporters are planning ahead. While the roof and air-conditioning units still have eight more years under warranty, when they are replaced it will cost around $340,000. To prepare for the expense, the library has launched the "Raise the Roof'' Fundraiser and Raffle.
This is how it works: An individual or group of up to five people can purchase a raffle ticket for $50. The library plans on selling 1,000 tickets. In November, after the $50,000 in ticket sales is collected, a drawing will be held. The winning ticket will pay $10,000. Other cash prizes ranging from $400 to $5,000 will also be awarded, with the remaining money used to help replenish the library's capital fund. If fewer than 1,000 tickets are sold, about 62 percent of the ticket receipts will be awarded.
Sharon Pikulinski, a 30-year resident of Palm Harbor, is the chairman of the Palm Harbor Library Advisory Council. Several months ago, she presented the idea of the fundraiser to Coppola.
"My sister lives in upstate New York, and there's a volunteer fire department up there who holds a similar raffle every year. That's how they survive," she said. "Gene, who tends to be a long-term planner, brought up that he wanted to do something to plan for the day when we need a new roof, and we decided that if we could do the same type of raffle, along with still collecting outside donations, then we would have the money when we needed it.''
Because the Palm Harbor Library, built in 1988, is in an unincorporated area, it does not have the financial backing of a city government. In 1985, Palm Harbor residents voted to tax themselves so they could receive library and recreation services. Now they pay a tax of one-quarter mill for library services and one-quarter mill for parks and recreation. A mill is $1 of tax for every $1,000 of assessed property value.
Although the tax has been successful in keeping the doors of the library open, funding for capital projects like the roof, new carpeting and paint, as well as computer upgrades, is an ongoing challenge, Coppola said.
"The recession hit us especially hard,'' he said. "In our (operating) budget, before the recession, we actually had a line item for replacement and renewal. We'd take money and set it aside for the capital projects, but that line item went away. The money we have in capital today is only $230,000, and we have nothing at this time to feed it.''
Coppola, who saw 11,700 visitors come through the front door of his library in March, recognizes that fundraising is a big part of his job.
"I'm okay with that," he said. "The county cannot give us more than a quarter-mill. The Palm Harbor Friends of the Library can only give us so much money, and so we need to keep coming up with ways to create annual, recurring dollars.''
In Clearwater, Coppola's counterpart is Clearwater library director Barbara Pickell. Pickell said she admires Coppola's perseverance. If she discovers a leak in the roof, she knows city staff will help take care of the problem.
"I appreciate what they are doing in Palm Harbor, and I'm glad that I don't have to do it,'' she said. "Since Palm Harbor is not a city, and does not have that governing body, they really don't have a choice but to come up with fundraisers to absorb some of the unexpected costs that come up. Their budget is stretched just to keep the doors open.''
Piper Castillo can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4163. To write a letter to the editor, visit tampabay.com/letters.