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Backers insist Seminole library is no turkey

City and St. Petersburg Junior College officials don't think the $3-million the Legislature approved for a new Seminole-area library is a budget turkey, and they hope the governor agrees.

The money, which made it through the Legislature, is the final piece of funding for the $6.7-million partnership library proposed for Seminole-area residents and St. Petersburg Junior College students.

Gov. Jeb Bush, who slashed $313-million in local projects last year, has said repeatedly that he doesn't want to see the state pay for local projects, called budget turkeys, that don't have a statewide purpose or a benefit for the public at large. The projects he killed last year included parks, museums, festivals and historic preservation.

City Manager Frank Edmunds said the library is different from those projects because it is an efficient use of government resources. The city and the junior college need some help building the library, he said, but won't be back every year asking for money to run the library.

The two entities will save money by operating the library together, he said. "We are optimistic the governor will see this is a benefit to the citizens of our area and that it actually maximizes uses of tax dollars."

Bush also has told legislators that he will look askance at projects that haven't been through careful evaluations.

The partnership library should satisfy that requirement, too, said Seminole campus provost Jim Olliver. "It isn't out of left field or unplanned or last minute or Johnny-come-lately."

The partnership library has been planned for four or five years, he said, and has been through numerous evaluations by the city, the junior college administration and the public.

"The project clearly meets the criteria of having been substantially reviewed," Olliver said. "This is a longstanding and, I think, highly regarded public policy issue."

The library's construction would benefit the general public, Olliver said, and would be a model for other municipalities and colleges.

Liz Hirst, a Bush spokeswoman, said recently that the governor has not had time to carefully review the state budget or this project.

Even though Seminole is the official applicant for the $3-million, the money would come from the state Public Education Capital Outlay fund, money raised from utility taxes to pay for school construction.

SPJC views the library as part of the development of the Seminole campus.

If the $3-million survives, SPJC would match it with money it already has received from the state for construction projects. The college also would match $400,000 in grants Seminole has secured for the library. The city would not have to dip into its coffers for any of the construction money.

The library, which would be built on the college campus on 113th Street, would cost about $6.7-million and would open in 2003.