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Published on TBNWeekly.com - Oct. 14, 2008
Library outcry fails to move Treasure Island Commission
City residents must now purchase a library card at a cost of $100 each
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TREASURE ISLAND – The issue of Treasure Island withdrawing from the Gulf Beaches Library cooperative reared its head once again in the Treasure Island City Commission meeting Oct. 7.

Last month the city, facing a budget crisis, decided to cut the funding to the Gulf Beaches Library in setting its budget for fiscal year 2008-09, thereby halting free library access for its citizens.

Now, citizens must purchase a library card for $100 to use the same library, which also allows access to all Pinellas County libraries.

The public outcry was tremendous, but failed to move the commission to reinstate the budget funding.

In the Oct. 7 meeting, Commissioner Phil Collins suggested a potential compromise. Per what Collins cautioned may be the most accurate numbers available from the Gulf Beaches Library, 3,600 library cards were issued to Treasure Island residents. Collins noted that individual cards are issued to families, not just individuals.

Collins, using U.S. Census data that calculates each household contains 3.14 individuals, suggested the city reimburse half the costs to the first 1,146 residents who purchase the $100 cards and can prove residency.

“I know this is a passionate issue,” Collins confessed. “But if we paid for the first 1,146 families, paid for half of that card, that would give the library $114,600. In the meantime we save the city $49,000 from us belonging to the cooperative.

“This enables the people who want to use the library the ability at a minimal cost.”

Collins hoped the funds could come out of the general fund or the enterprise fund. His proposal was met with mixed results from his fellow commissioners.

“I don’t like the cost,” Commissioner Alan Bildz said. “You did a nice job on this but I’d like to see that the cost comes down a little more. This is a burden on taxpayers.”

Commissioner Bob Minning also was concerned about the financing of the project, but hinted the possibility of some funds being available.

“We have to be very cognizant of where the money is coming from,” Minning said. “We can’t continue to dip into the general fund and expect it to be a panacea or a slush fund to fund things that were not approved in the budget.

“But our budget was based on a higher number (of price per gallon). Considering where (the price of gas) is now, I don’t think gasoline will escalate again. If we took the 50-cents a gallon (gas has dropped] the city will save approximately $39,000. So I don’t think we have to dip into the general fund and I think we could afford $50,000 for the library.”

While wary of the financial issues, Minning offered qualified support to Collins’ library compromise.

“We shouldn’t approve items just because it was done in the past,” Minning said. “We close schools because there isn’t enough money to go around.”

Minning cited the number of libraries within a 10-mile radius of Treasure Island and also noted that residents can purchase an annual library card from the Indian Rocks Beach library for $10.

Collins compromise brought out the critics and supporters of the cut in the library funding.

“I never met anyone in my life who was against libraries or who didn’t want to pay for a library,” Rosemary O’Connor said. “I’ve never heard of paying $100 for a library card. It’s just the ethics. The whole country wants to promote literacy. I don’t understand how it got to this point. I don’t understand anyone who won’t advocate a library.”

Paul Starr, as he has in the past, blasted the commission for various expenditures and not paying for the library funding. Again, he voiced his displeasure of money spent on boat slips.

“I don’t think you need to spend more money on boat slips when you can’t belong to a library co-op,” Starr said. “There are ways to restructure the budget so you can still belong to the library. A library is a basic service.”

Hugh Ruckdeschel, a longtime outspoken critic of the library funding, hinted Collins’ compromise was an ulterior motive.

“Don’t get votes from people who own a library card,” Ruckdeschel barked at Collins.

Collins’ compromise will be added to the city commission’s next workshop meeting Oct. 21 for further discussion.
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