MADEIRA BEACH – The Gulf Beaches Public Library board voted to dip into reserve funds for money to operate the facility for the next three months.
The action was taken at a board meeting on Monday, Sept. 22, to avert a financial crisis which emerged when Treasure Island, the library’s largest monetary supporter, voted to withdraw its funding for the new fiscal year starting Oct. 1. Treasure Island’s share is $107,000.
The board also decided not to grant a 30-day “grace period” to allow Treasure Island residents to continue free use of the library, meaning they will have to purchase library cards costing $100 a year beginning next month.
Treasure Island Commissioner Phil Collins urged the library to make budget cuts that would reduce the monetary contributions of the five cities that support the library during a Sept. 17 budget hearing. He cited salary expense in particular, which accounts for 70 percent of the library’s total budget.
“I’ve been in business, and that’s too high,” Collins said.
In order for Treasure Island to reconsider its decision not to fund the library, budget reductions need to be made as Treasure Island has done, Collins said.
“Treasure Island has cut back on their budget,” he said. “I have to show our commission that the library is cutting back.”
Apparently seeing little hope of reversing Treasure Island’s decision, library board members focused on convincing residents to sign up for the $100 library cards. If a third of the library’s estimated 3,600 Treasure Island users purchase the cards at the Gulf Beaches Library, the city’s funding contribution could be made up. The board decided to form a committee to solicit ideas for marketing the cards to Treasure Island residents.
The board also agreed to authorize a meeting between library director Jan Horah and Madeira Beach City Manager W.D. Higginbotham Jr. to discuss budget reduction possibilities. Higginbotham had proposed the meeting.
Library board chairman Nick Simons said he regretted using reserve funds to operate the library, “but Treasure Island’s actions, or lack of actions, have left us no choice.”
Board member Mary Bennett, one of three board members who opposed the move, said the library needed to look at other options, such as delaying pay increases and freezing salaries. “The board has got to act responsibly, and take other steps besides just taking money out of reserves,” she said.
Treasure Island has failed to be a responsible library partner with the other supporting communities by withdrawing its funding on short notice, Simons said. He termed Treasure Island’s conduct “a disappointment, and an insult to your partners.” Simons also serves as mayor of Redington Beach, which is one of the library’s supporting communities.
Treasure Island Mayor Mary Maloof, who was the only commission member to support the library funding, told the board her city is in “dire financial condition” due mostly to the loss of bridge revenue. Nonetheless, Maloof said she did not believe the Treasure Island commission should have used the budget as an excuse not to fund the library.
“I was upset when some of the commissioners chose to make the library the loser in this situation. If there are budget issues, why were they not mentioned before?” she said.