How's this for a reward? Four days after picking up recognition as Florida's 2008 library of the year, Pasco County decided to cut the library branches' operating hours.
Good thing the Pasco County Library System didn't win national accolades.
The decision to cut the library operations also comes a year after the county completed multimillion-dollar renovations and expansions of branches in Regency Park and Land O'Lakes.
"Yes, the irony is there,'' said Linda Allen, director of the county's library system.
Irony and frustration. The county, with impact fee revenue available from housing starts, could afford to modernize its library system. But, with county revenue expected to shrink by an estimated $16-million due to the tax breaks of Amendment 1 on top of Legislature-imposed spending caps, Pasco is struggling to operate its state-of-the art facilities to their maximum.
It is just one byproduct of Amendment 1. The county already introduced new fees for park users, and significant budget cuts are anticipated elsewhere in the coming months.
Tuesday, commissioners agreed unanimously with a staff recommendation to close the library branches at 8 p.m. on the evenings they had been open until 9. It's a loss of 17 operating hours weekly around the system, saving $43,000 worth of staff time and $10,000 in utilities. Sadly, Allen cautioned afterward the cuts could be "just the beginning point for us.'' The library system is trying to trim $1-million from its $7-million budget.
It could lead to an undesirable constraint on the library's programs for which Pasco just won statewide acclaim. Libraries are more than book depositories. The reading, video gaming, story-time, social and other offerings allow libraries to serve as de facto community centers, connecting residents through shared experiences.
Recent transplants may take the county's libraries for granted. But anyone who lived in Pasco before 1990 might recall the library system operated in three cramped sites with few titles and an inadequate periodical list. Voter approval of a bond issue in 1986 provided the construction dollars to assemble the seven branches in use today. And impact fee dollars helped fund the work at Regency Park and Land O'Lakes, increasing the branch sizes by 80 percent and adding a computer lab, a teen room, children's wing, 17 computers and 5,000 book titles.
Now, the county must settle on just how much it can afford to operate. It is a question that must be answered in recreation, senior nutrition, public safety and other nuts-and-bolts government services.
Shutting the libraries early is just one of a long list of implications from voters who wanted to pay less property taxes.