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In struggle to survive, bridges often burned

You know this budget-cutting business is getting grim when the sunniest of all government-run entities, the local library, goes hard-nosed.

For more than a decade, the Tampa-Hillsborough Public Library has opened its doors to neighbors in Pasco and other close-by counties, and vice versa. You Pasco folks want to check out our books? Of course. Borrow our CDs? Help yourself, neighbor.

Sure, the deal was reciprocal. But it was a little like Hillsborough occasionally stopped by to borrow a cup of sugar while Pasco used Hillsborough's family car every week. Pascoites took out more than a quarter-million items from Hillsborough libraries last year, while Hillsborough borrowed 2,180 from Pasco.

All of which seemed to work out fine, libraries being all about access to information to as many people as possible.

Well, it's easy to welcome outsiders to the table in fat times. But with a faltering economy and property tax reverberations, even neighborliness can be a luxury. Hills­borough library officials are now recommending nixing this particular nicety.

Outsiders could keep coming in, but they would have to order materials through their home libraries, or else pony up a whopping $100 yearly fee. Ouch.

(Of course, library-types are being nice about it. "I'm sorry to hear that," Pasco libraries director Linda Allen told the Times' Bill Coats. "But if I were in the similar position, I would make the same decision.")

We are in times of tough choices, killing off programs that help people who need it and laying off nonessential workers who probably don't feel all that nonessential, all in the name of saving essential services.

Speaking of essential services — and what could be more essential than police protection — let's talk about recent comments from Pinellas Sheriff Jim Coats.

The sheriff warned county commissioners that a 10 percent whack at his budget could mean "a significant crime increase" and streets "littered with human carnage."

"Innocent citizens, including children, will be caught up in a deadly crossfire," he said.

And, "Law-abiding citizens will become prisoners in their own home."

Sound a tad over the top? A dime off the dollar means our streets run wild? We're that close to the edge?

Now imagine for a minute you're in need of a serious operation, and your doctor says, "Man, is that gonna hurt! You will be in amazing pain! How terrifying!"

Probably you'd prefer he talked options and alternatives and pain management, and that he deal with the situation as professionally and, yes, also as frankly as possible.

No need for scare tactics.

To his credit, Sheriff Coats sounds passionate about gains made by community policing, driving-under-the-influence enforcement and training programs to keep inmates from landing back in jail — gains he clearly does not want to give up.

"Maybe it was a little overkill," he told me this week. "But I was trying to get a point across."

Government officials have a challenge here: making practical decisions about what they need without circling the wagons to protect what's theirs. It will be a test of their mettle.

And before it's over, maybe we'll know something about leadership, libraries to law enforcement.

In struggle to survive, bridges often burned 05/29/08 [Last modified: Friday, May 30, 2008 8:03pm]

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