EAST LAKE – The leaders of the East Lake Community Library are encouraged by potential solutions to the library’s future funding issues, but don’t feel they have enough information to take a position on what structural changes should be made.
The library is caught in the middle of negotiations for an updated Pinellas Public Library Cooperative agreement, which currently fosters collaboration between the 14 independent libraries. It is due to expire in September.
Up until recently, East Lake library Director Patricia Perez didn’t hold out much hope that a new agreement might help the library, which is classified and funded as a unit of the Palm Harbor Library, to meet the disparity between their funding and the amount of patrons they serve.
But her perspective changed after a Pinellas County commission workshop on the topic on Jan. 22.
“I was actually quite pleased,” she said. “I see movement. It makes me happy that they’re looking at the actual costs.”
She had hoped that the advisory board for the library could take a position on one of several solutions to the library’s budget woes proposed when they met on Feb 12. But the board decided to wait.
“We just feel that there are too many variables,” Perez said. “We can’t in good faith recommend anything until we get more information from the county.”
Perez made the decision last summer to reduce library hours down to 47 hours a week temporarily and has not been able to reinstate the lost hours. The library is supported with funds from the library cooperative, which are contingent on financial support from the county since the area has no city government.
“East Lake is in a desperate place. Something has to happen,” Perez said.
For that reason, she’s glad the library negotiations are “getting down to the nitty gritty.” The county commissioners have been presented with a few different scenarios that could change the way East Lake receives funding.
To start, the county could raise the library tax rate paid by residents of unincorporated Pinellas County, which include East Lake residents. This would increase the overall tax base supporting all the libraries would mean more funds for East Lake library.
Another solution would combat the accusation that East Lake residents are paying an inequitable share of the library cooperative budget without seeing return on the investment. County budget staff are analyzing whether funneling half of the library taxes from East Lake directly back into the East Lake library could be a feasible option.