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Plan for Centennial Park library keeps it open, slashes hours at other branches

DADE CITY — Pasco commissioners endorsed a plan Tuesday that keeps Holiday's Centennial Park Library open, but has a tradeoff: shorter hours at all but the Land O'Lakes branch.

The cost-cutting decision was one of two that commissioners made Tuesday. The other was privately contracting custodial services at 30 facilities now cared for by county staff.

Taken together, the two moves are projected to save more than a half-million dollars, but could lead to some mild frustration for library patrons — and serious headaches for the county custodians who will see their jobs eliminated.

As part of the libraries plan, six branches will open at 11 a.m. rather than 10 a.m. every day but Tuesday, the busiest day. On Fridays, they will close an hour earlier.

County officials said that as a condition of state and federal funding, at least one library must be open 40 hours a week. They chose the Land O'Lakes branch because it is the busiest.

Officials put the savings at $272,000, a figure that covers the elimination of 10 vacant positions. Full-time library employees will continue working 40-hour weeks by coming in before the doors open to the public and staying after the doors close, said assistant county administrator Dan Johnson.

The county budgets for vacant positions each year, which is why officials say they consider eliminating those positions as savings.

Libraries director Linda Allen warned commissioners that the changes won't do much to reduce the workload in the library system, which has won numerous awards.

"We're just barely making it," said Allen, who is retiring this year. "We're hanging on by our fingernails."

The proposed 2010-11 budget assumed commissioners would close Centennial Park Library, which would have saved $290,000 in operating expenses and personnel costs through the elimination of 10 positions. Eight of those employees would have been transferred to other branches.

Officials would have also seen significant savings to the hard-hit general fund — $268,000 — by having two of its departments give up pricey leased office space and move into the Centennial facility. Two other departments would have moved into that leased space at Grand Boulevard and Trouble Creek Road, and paid the rent out of a different enterprise fund not dependent on property tax revenue.

County staff had targeted Centennial for two years because the South Holiday branch is less than 2 miles away. But it was saved each time due to a public outcry. Just last week, Centennial patrons presented commissioners with nearly 3,000 signatures from people demanding the branch be kept open.

Also, just recently, officials learned that closing Centennial wouldn't be as easy as they thought. The facility was built in part with a grant that requires state permission for county officials to change its use.

Commissioners also gave their blessing to hire O,R&L Facility Services of Winter Park to clean 30 additional facilities on top of the 13 it already maintains. That means eliminating 26 custodial positions — all but two of which are filled.

Facilities officials think they can save nearly $328,000 in the first year alone.

O,R&L told the county in a letter that its goal "is to retain productive county employees long term." The firm is guaranteeing work to displaced county workers only for up to three months, however.

O,R&L pays entry-level wages of $7.50 an hour, compared to the $8.29 an hour that those workers make with the county.

The company offers less than half of the vacation and sick days as the county and health insurance that requires an employee copay of $56 per pay period. County employees have no such copay. O,R&L provides a 6 percent match to employees' 401(k) plans, which the county does not.

No supervisor positions would be eliminated as part of the private contracting. Facilities director Frank James said those supervisors (two maintenance supervisors plus two assistants) oversee other employees and handle work orders from department staff. They will also be expected to keep an eye on the private contractor.

Commissioner Ted Schrader said he has some reservations about contracting the work, but is willing to give it shot.

"We're talking about people's lives. I don't think you're going to see many of them go to O,R&L," he said. "I just hope we're doing it for the right reason. I still think there's some room for supervisor positions to be eliminated."

Jodie Tillman can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6247.

Plan for Centennial Park library keeps it open, slashes hours at other branches 08/31/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 31, 2010 8:57pm]
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