TREASURE ISLAND — After months of controversy over withdrawing financial support for the Gulf Beaches Public Library, the City Commission voted Tuesday to rejoin the five-town cooperative, at least for the coming year.
"The fact that Treasure Island is back is huge," library board chairman Nick Simons said Friday. "The wishes of the other four towns is that they will be in the library for many years to come."
The unanimous commission decision means Treasure Island residents no longer have to pay $100 annually to borrow books at any Pinellas County library.
It also means the Madeira Beach-based library's management can breathe easier for at least a year.
What will happen next year when the member towns and the library formulate their 2009-2010 budgets is still uncertain.
For decades, the library's budget was shared, based on population, by Treasure Island, Madeira Beach, Redington Beach, North Redington Beach and Redington Shores.
Treasure Island decided this year to cancel its scheduled $107,000 library contribution as it slashed the budget to avoid increasing property taxes.
The decision was made amid much criticism of the library's financial management, forcing the library's board of trustees to redo its budget to make up for the revenue shortfall.
The library cut its hours, reduced its staff and made other budget cuts.
In the process, the board found that it had an extra $300,000 in reserves. That discovery led to sharp criticism of library director Jan Horah and her subsequent dismissal two weeks ago.
Horah, who was hired in 1999 and earned $69,436 a year, has threatened to sue the library board for wrongful termination.
Simons said Friday that he forwarded a letter from Horah's attorney and other documentation relating to her firing to the library's insurance company.
The board will next meet Dec. 8 to discuss an updated job description for the library director post, which is needed to begin advertising for Horah's replacement.
Meanwhile, the library has posted a sign in its lobby welcoming back Treasure Island residents.
"Even with all the news stories, people from Treasure Island came in as recently as last week and didn't know they would have to pay $100 to borrow books," said interim library director Travis Sherman.
Now all Treasure Island residents can again use the library at no charge.
Simons said the library will reimburse any residents who paid the $100 fee for a new library card, as will other libraries in the countywide cooperative.
Approximately 80 cards were sold at the Madeira Beach library, and about another 40 were sold at the St. Pete Beach library.
With Treasure Island agreeing to formally rejoin the library system, the library will use part of its reserves to cover half the member towns' budget contributions based on its revised budget.
As a result, Treasure Island will spend a maximum of $43,463 to support the library's operation for the current year.
Treasure Island also has asked that the library director report annually on city residents' use of the library's services.
Commissioner Alan Bildz, who had been particularly critical of Horah's failure to provide the city with information about library operations, said the savings is good news.
"I am very happy that is settled, at least for this year," said Mayor Mary Maloof. "We are turning a new page."