Pinellas County commissioners voted on Tuesday to make the East Lake Community Library self-funding, ending a years-long situation in which residents paid more in library taxes than their library got back.
Under the new ordinance, the library will be funded by a local taxing district, using the boundaries of the East Lake Tarpon Special Fire Control District. Instead of paying the nearly half mill countywide library tax, residents within that district will see their taxes fall to a quarter mill, or 25 cents for every $1,000 of assessed, nonexempt property value.
"It's been a long time coming," said Commissioner Susan Latvala, who has advocated for years for the library's independence. "I feel like I'm birthing a baby. I'm very, very happy that we're at this point."
Up until now, East Lake has relied on the county's library cooperative for funding. Each year, its residents have paid nearly a million dollars in library taxes and received about $400,000 back.
As a result, the library has had to reduce hours, staff and programs, said East Lake resident Barbara Schultz. "The distribution of libraries taxes wasn't fair," she said.
The commission agreed unanimously.
The change gives East Lake a similar funding structure to Palm Harbor's library, which is paid for by a taxing district there and also charges residents a quarter mill for library services.
Under the new arrangement, East Lake's library will continue to participate in the county's library co-op, sharing its books and resources and, in return, receiving some of the money raised by the unincorporated county library tax. County officials estimate that East Lake's library will receive about $685,000 a year.
But because East Lake residents will no longer pay into the co-op, the organization will lose tax dollars as a result of the commission's decision.
The commission is debating the possibility of raising the tax on unincorporated residents from about .4 mills to a half mill.