TREASURE ISLAND — Residents here will have to pay $100 for a library card, the City Commission tentatively decided during a budget workshop Wednesday.
Presently, library cards are free for residents because the city is one of five beach communities that are members of the Gulf Beaches Public Library in Madeira Beach.
In a 4-1 vote, the commission decided to resign from the Gulf Beaches cooperative and no longer pay its $107,132 annual share to finance library operations.
The city would not subsidize the cost of new library cards for residents, as do most other cities without libraries.
The action is part of the commission's attempt to shift responsibility for expenses from property taxes to user fees. Without severe cuts in expenses, the city faces a 17.25 percent property tax hike to fund its originally proposed $16.78-million 2008-09 budget.
"If we are to withdraw, the library will cease to exist," warned Mayor Mary Maloof, who was the lone voice opposed to leaving the library cooperative.
"I love the library. I'd hate to see us not belong to it, but there are certain things that we can't afford, and we have to make sacrifices," Commissioner Phil Collins said.
He said continuing to spend money on the library would be "doing a disservice" to Treasure Island residents.
"As much as I would hate to see the library go, I wouldn't have a problem personally paying $100 for the library," Commissioner Robert Minning said. "This is a very, very tough call."
Commissioner Ed Gayton Jr. said the "community is hurting" financially and cannot afford to continue paying for library services.
City Manager Reid Silverboard called the library funding a quality of life issue and said cutting the library subsidy "could be looked at as charging residents $100 more in taxes, or a $100 fee for services they already have."
The Gulf Beaches Public Library is a member of the Pinellas Public Library Cooperative which includes 15 libraries throughout the county, including municipal libraries in St. Pete Beach, St. Petersburg, Gulfport, Seminole and Pinellas Park.
Out of about 7,000 Treasure Island residents, more than 5,000 currently have library cards.
The Gulf Beaches Public Library also is financially supported by Madeira Beach, Redington Beach, North Redington Beach, Redington Shores. Treasure Island, alone, now pays about 20 percent of the library's $503,313 annual budget.
The loss of that income would put the financial future of the Gulf Beaches Public Library in serious doubt, according to Library Director Jan Horah.
"I can't cut $100,000 out of our budget. It takes almost $200,000 just to pay salaries," she said. "I don't know what we are going to do."
Horah will meet with the library's board of directors in an emergency meeting Monday afternoon to discuss whether Treasure Island's action violates the contract between the library and the city.
Treasure Island argues that it can leave the library cooperative at any time. Horah says the contract requires six months notice prior to the end of each three-year library budget cycle."
The current contract cycle began last year and has two more years to run. The problem, both for the city and the library, is that there are two versions of the contract.
One, which appears to support Horah's interpretation, is signed by the city.
No one has yet found a signed version of the other contract, which contains a clause that appears to make the contract contingent on the ability of individual cities to pay their annual portion of the library's budget.
"This is heartbreaking because Treasure Island residents are such good users of the library," said Mary Brown, PPLC director. "I hope the residents will take a second look at this."
The Commission has two public hearings on its proposed budget: 6 p.m. Sept. 3 and 23 at City Hall.