CLEARWATER – The Pinellas Public Library Consortium has existed for more than two decades, and the interlocal agreement that created it is up for renewal next year.
But the members of Clearwater’s City Council aren’t sure they want to renew it because they don’t feel the county is paying its fair share.
“Over 20 years ago, the county decided it didn’t want to be in the library business,” Barbara Pickell, Clearwater’s library director told the council at its Oct. 30 work session.
Instead, the PPLC was formed and the county was authorized to tack an extra half-mill onto the property taxes of residents of the unincorporated areas so they could participate in the consortium, although it has repeatedly taxed less than that amount. The amount that member cities pay to the PPLC varies widely, from $13 to $64 per capita, and Clearwater is near the top.
One notable exception to this arrangement is the East Lake Library, which is the only library funded from the county’s general fund, instead of from a city or taxing district. There is a move afoot to create special taxing district for East Lake, but that won’t help the PPLC.
“Any change for East Lake will reduce the amount of funding available for other libraries in the county,” a staff memo to the council said. “That loss could be as much as $1 million a year.”
“It would be a help to have it be a better library than it is now,” Pickell said of East Lake.
But she added that that will take time, even if the special taxing district is approved.
Some council members, especially Vice Mayor Paul Gibson, suggested that Clearwater might do better by dropping out of the PPLC and going it alone.
“It seems that every time you go down the road with the county, it ends up in a bad place,” Gibson said. “… We are always looked at as the rich uncle, especially by the county. Always, Always. Always. It causes me to question whether we want to cooperate at all.”
Mayor George Cretekos said that dropping out of the PPLC would end up costing Clearwater more in the long run. Instead, he instructed City Manager Bill Horne to inform county officials that Clearwater is upset that residents of the unincorporated county are paying less than the half-mill library tax the county is authorized to charge them.
“I doubt that they’ll care,” Gibson said.
He added that if Clearwater threatened to pull out of the PPLC, the county wouldn’t dare call its bluff.
“The county can’t let this happen; it’s too sweet of a deal” Gibson said. “If we just said ‘fund it or we’re out,’ believe me, they would fund it. They have a sweetheart deal with us …”
But Pickell said that even though Clearwater’s library systems loans more books to other libraries than it borrows from them, it is a nice amenity for Clearwater residents to have access to materials and services not available in Clearwater.
Besides, she said, the city council isn’t currently being asked to approve the details of a new PPLC agreement; it is just instructing Horne to continue negotiating with his counterparts in other PPLC cities to work toward a document that is acceptable to all the parties.
With that, the councilmembers unanimously, if reluctantly, agreed to put the matter on the consent agenda of the council’s Nov. 1 meeting, thereby virtually guaranteeing that the negotiations will go on.