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Pasco library system feels tax-cuts pain

Russell Miller is 77, lives in Lutz and has cultivated a two-decade passion for woodworking.

When he needed to find Mechanick Exercises, a rare 1683 carpentry tome by Joseph Moxon, he turned to Pasco's interlibrary loan service.

"I would have bought it if I could find it," he said. "Since I couldn't, I had to do the next best thing."

The bad news for Miller is that the next best thing won't be available much longer.

Faced with deep cuts in property taxes, the Pasco County library system is about to give up its interlibrary loan system, more than five staff positions and its summer reading program. Hours will be cut back too.

Libraries here will remain a member of the Tampa Bay Library Consortia, that will get any book for readers as long as the book (or audio CD) is held by a library in the eight member counties.

But readers won't be able to get anything beyond those limits, which used to be covered by a service called OCLC — the official name for something that used to be called the Online Computer Library Center — a 41-year-old lending service with access to 60,000 libraries in 112 countries.

OCLC costs $22,000 a year, compared with $5,750 for the regional service, and it's pretty popular: In the year up to September 2007, there were 3,324 requests made of OCLC in Pasco, roughly equal to the number of requests made under the regional service.

But, grappling with $813,000 she needs to cut from a $7-million budget for the fiscal year starting October, Pasco library director Linda Allen has little choice.

"We're past contemplating now," she said. "The decision is going to take effect around June. … People have said they don't want their taxes to go to things they don't use. I would love to say there's a service here we don't use, but there isn't, and unfortunately we can't have that service."

For Allen, it's not just the OCLC.

She is going to lose 51/2 staff positions that cost $211,000, which means five librarians and one shelver. Those positions had stayed vacant this year, as Allen anticipated the looming losses.

"As other positions become vacant, we will not fill them," she said. "Usually, we'll lose another five to 10 by attrition" in a year.

In the reduced budget Allen is proposing, the county's main library in Hudson will close earlier, losing the 8 to 9 p.m. slot every day. At the branches, this means shutting an hour earlier two or three days a week.

The $13,000 annual summer reading program will be gone too, Allen said, unless she can find alternative funding.

The losses hurt those like Kevin Griffith, who depend on OCLC for musical scores and books on art and psychology. He's a library employee, and he's seen retirees use the service for research on genealogy and medical conditions.

"Once it shuts down, I'm going to weep openly," he said, half-jokingly. "It's just going to affect my wallet. The property tax cut is not going to make up for it."

The county is still working through what reductions need to be made as a result of voter approval of a property tax cut amendment earlier this year, so there's a chance that Allen's proposals won't have to happen — but the time to speak is now, Allen said.

"The opportunity is there for citizens to talk to their county commissioners," she said. "We're hoping people will express a desire to have more money spent on libraries.

Chuin-Wei Yap can be reached at cyap@sptimes.com or (813)909-4613.

Pasco library system feels tax-cuts pain 03/18/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 18, 2008 10:00pm]
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