Pinellas commission plans to increase funding for East Lake library
By Chris O'Donnell | Tribune StaffThe roughly 30,000 residents who live in East Lake pay a total of almost $1 million per year in taxes for library services.
Published: January 23, 2013
Published: January 23, 2013
Yet the community's one library gets just $400,000 to operate. The library has recently reduced operating hours and will run out of money by this summer, library officials say.
Pinellas County commissioners blame a convoluted funding system that pays for residents in unincorporated Pinellas to browse or borrow books from any library in the county's 26 library systems.
In all, residents in unincorporated Pinellas pay $4.6 million in library taxes each year. Under a 1985 agreement, that money is awarded to libraries across the county based partly on how many out-of-area residents they serve.
But the expiration of that agreement at the end of September may trigger a dispute between the county and cities over how the money is spent and how much residents in unincorporated Pinellas pay in library taxes.
At a workshop Tuesday, commissioners said they plan to award more funding to East Lake. Suggestions include siphoning off half of the taxes East Lake residents pay to fund their library directly or creating a special taxing district.
That may not sit well with cities who want the county to raise library taxes so funding levels more closely match what cities spend on libraries. They also are asking for more representation on the Pinellas County Library Cooperative, the nonprofit group that coordinates services across the county.
City officials did not take part in the workshop, but John Streitmatter, a county consultant who met with them, said they want the county to raise library property taxes.
St. Petersburg City Administrator Tish Elston said cities also want any new agreement to prioritize what services are offered.
"There are not enough funds to do everything," Elston said in an email.
County commissioners only have limited leverage in any dispute because the county's library tax provides just 17 percent of the $26.4 million spent on libraries this year. Streitmatter said cities want a new agreement but are prepared to form their own cooperative if necessary.
Cities are proposing that officials from Dunedin, St. Petersburg, Clearwater and Largo make appointments to the nine-member board. Smaller communities would get a combined seat on the board.
The request by cities for more representation on the cooperative board also grated with some commissioners.
"I am adamantly opposed," said Commissioner Susan Latvala. "It is paid by unincorporated citizens. It would give the larger cities an edge."
East Lake residents have been among the most vocal in calling for changes to how their library taxes are spent.
Carole Consenza, a member of the Lansbrook Master Association, said the library needs its own funding stream.
"We don't want to have raffles so our kids can have a summer reading program," Carole Consenza said. "St. Pete has a children's library. We have a closet."