With less than a year to go before the agreement that governs Pinellas' network of libraries expires, county commissioners met on Tuesday to wrestle with how to fund them.
There have long been complaints about the formula that distributes roughly $4.6 million in county tax revenue collected from unincorporated county residents among the cooperative's 26 libraries. Some city leaders say they don't get enough county funding to pay for all of the people from unincorporated areas who use their city libraries.
Residents of East Lake are among the most vocal critics. They send tax money to the county cooperative, but get only a fraction of it back to run their library.
On Tuesday, commissioners agreed to negotiate a new formula that sends more money to East Lake. It's unclear, however, whether the 12 cities in the cooperative will agree.
Commissioner Karen Seel said she would prefer to amend the formula so that half of East Lake's tax money goes to its library and the other half goes to the county's library cooperative fund. A majority of the board agreed.
The commission favored that option over creating — or allowing residents to vote on — an East Lake taxing district that would directly fund the library. Creating such a district would drain nearly $1 million from the cooperative.
Asking residents to approve a new taxing district could anger people who already feel their tax bills are too high, said Commissioner Norm Roche.
Built in 1999, the East Lake library mainly depends on money collected through the tax on unincorporated residents.
Each year, it sends about $986,000 to the county, but gets only about $400,000 back.
Patricia Perez, who has been director of the East Lake Community Library since 2009, attended the meeting. She said the discussion was a positive one.
"They opened up all the different possibilities and they discussed everything,'' she said. "One thing is clear, the commissioners were all aware of East Lake's inequity. I was pleased that point was clear, but how it's going to be fixed and resolved, that's where they need to do a little more work."
Anna Phillips can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.