TREASURE ISLAND — Impassioned pleas to restore $107,000 in funding cuts for the Gulf Beaches Public Library in Madeira Beach failed to sway the City Commission on Wednesday as it set its property tax rate at a level that excludes any money for the library.
Once the 2008-2009 budget is approved, Treasure Island is expected to formally withdraw from the five-community consortium that financially supports the library. Other beach cities that sponsor the library are Madeira Beach, Redington Beach, North Redington Beach and Redington Shores.
Former elected officials from some of those communities were among the nearly standing-room-only audience.
"This came right out of the blue. If you pull out now and endanger the library's funding, you are not going to make a lot of friends up north on the barrier island. You people want to pull out and leave us in the lurch at the last minute. It's not good," former Madeira Beach Commissioner Martha Boos warned.
Former Vice Mayor Lee Holmes of Redington Shores said the "loss of financial support" from Treasure Island would "seriously jeopardize" continued operation of the library.
Former Madeira Beach Commissioner Art Thomas said "the library is the backbone of the future of your city," and offered to personally find enough money in the Treasure Island budget to restore library funding.
Thomas drew loud applause when he suggested commissioners start by cutting their own salaries to raise the money.
Many Treasure Island residents also pleaded with the commission to continue supporting the library, calling it a "basic fundamental need" and an "essential right" of the city's residents.
"Soon we will not have money for anything, but at least we can read books," said one resident concerned about the economy and rising gas prices.
Some residents and property owners supported cutting the library's money.
"In the past five years, my taxes have gone up 155 percent," said Janie Hermann, a longtime business owner. "The community can no longer support extreme increases in taxes. Those who want to use services are going to have to pay for them."
James Gustry, who owns and lives in a five-unit apartment building on the Isle of Capri, said the commission faced a "real simple matter of economics" and needed to "run the city like a business" by shifting responsibility for services to those who use them.
Travis Sherman, the youth services librarian at the Gulf Beaches Public Library, says that more than 2,500 Treasure Island residents are active members of the library.
With the city backing out of the library system, those or other Treasure Island residents will have to pay $100 a year for a family library card. Several other cities that do not have municipal libraries subsidize all or part of that cost, but Treasure Island commissioners have indicated they do not plan to.
The library has posted signs in its lobby and on its Web site warning Treasure Island residents that beginning Oct. 1, they will no longer have access to any library in Pinellas County unless they purchase library cards.
The Library Board is scheduled to meet at 4 p.m. Sept. 22 to discuss how it will react to Treasure Island's action — and how to refinance its budget.
Treasure Island Commissioner Alan Bildz said he is not worried about the library's ability to stay in operation. "If enough residents sign up for the $100 cards, they would more than make up for the $107,000" cut by the city, he said.
Except for Mayor Mary Maloof, the commission joined Bildz in supporting the proposed property tax rate of 2.4999 mills, which is 8.52 percent less than the rollback rate.
The commission will meet again at 6 p.m. Sept. 17 for its final vote on property taxes and the city's budget.