TREASURE ISLAND — Funding for the Gulf Beaches Public Library may become a political football again this year, if this city has anything to say about it.
The debate may be a bit more civil, given the appointment of a new library director and a pending new agreement between the five communities that financially support the library: Treasure Island, Madeira Beach, Redington Beach, North Redington Beach and Redington Shores.
The issue, however, is unchanged — Treasure Island commissioners resent paying nearly half of the library's local budget contributions when, officials say, few residents actually use the library.
In the past, the other four towns tried to mollify Treasure Island's complaint by giving the city a 10 percent discount.
Then the recession happened.
Treasure Island reacted last year by challenging the library management, demanding specific usage numbers and eventually refusing to pay its $107,000 portion of the library's budget.
The fallout of that decision led to the discovery of the library's nearly $500,000 contingency fund, the resignation of then-library director Jan Horah, and a complete review of the library's budget.
After the library board reduced its staff and used the contingency fund to reduce member-town contributions, Treasure Island decided to pay its share, after all.
For the library, it didn't hurt that city residents complained after they were forced to pay a $100 fee to be able to use any library in the county.
That could happen again this year if the city were to repeat its refusal to contribute to the library.
"Our membership in Gulf Beaches allows our residents to use other libraries in the county," Commissioner Alan Bildz reminded his fellow commissioners during a budget workshop last week.
Bildz represents the city on the Library Board and, ironically, was one of the sharpest critics of the library last year.
But, as happened last year, other city commissioners grilled the new library director, Maggie Cinnella, last week over just how many Treasure Island residents use the library. They also complained they were not getting a discount on the amount of money the city is being asked to pay.
"I am a long supporter of the library, but fair is fair," Mayor Bob Minning said. "It's just a question of equity. Obviously somebody is getting a good deal."
Minning wants Treasure Island's share of library funding to be based on usage, rather than on population, as the five-town split is now calculated.
It didn't seem to matter to commissioners that the city's share had dropped from last year's original $107,000 to $77,420. That number is still a 70 percent increase, however, over this year's estimated total contribution of $45,465. It is also about 42 percent of the $180,000 total contributions from the five towns.
And for that recurring issue — just how many Treasure Island residents are using the library — Cinnella acknowledged she did not know.
What she does know is 3,200 or 43 percent of the city's 7,597 residents have library cards. Collectively, so far this year, a total of 22,683 items — books, audio tapes and DVDs — were checked out from Pinellas County libraries by Treasure Island residents.
What she does not know is how many individual library card holders actually use the library. The reason, she explained, is the library software that tracks usage does not provide individual card holder data.
When Minning and Commissioner Ed Gayton Jr. continued to criticize the amount the city is being asked to pay to the library, Cinella reacted sharply.
"Families who do not have children still have to pay school taxes. The library is an institution that still needs to be funded," she said.