PALM HARBOR – Board members of the Palm Harbor Community Services Agency began to consider May 15 how the agency’s role might change if county commissioners approve a new Municipal Services Taxing Unit for East Lake library.
“We need to identify early what their intent is,” said board member Marcus Harrison, pointing out that the change could dramatically affect how the agency operates.
The agency was designed to oversee a special taxing district in Palm Harbor that funds the Palm Harbor Library and recreation services in the absence of a city government. East Lake Community Library was built as a non-independent unit of Palm Harbor Library, supported only by funds from the Pinellas Public Library Cooperative and the Pinellas County government. Since then, the Palm Harbor Community Services Agency – commonly referred to as PHCSA, pronounced “fix-sa” – has overseen the East Lake library as well as its own public services on behalf of the county.
However, residents and library patrons in East Lake have complained that too little of their library tax dollars, paid by all county residents in unincorporated areas, makes it back to fund their humble library.
A new taxing unit that mirrors the one funding the Palm Harbor library and recreation could address that concern. County commissioners are set to consider an ordinance establishing the district May 21.
While the agency supports the change, a new taxing district would affect everything from the impending budget process to the logistics of the board itself. The board has no official word that would even continue governing East Lake library.
“Everything I’ve heard up until this point – and admittedly, it is secondhand – is that the intent is regardless as the status that East Lake comes, it still would be under auspices of PHCSA,” said Palm Harbor Library Director Gene Coppola. “Because we have government in place, why create something new?”
Agency attorney Andy Salzmann clarified that the county would still oversee the new dependent district.
“They can delegate (that responsibility) to anyone, which is what they did in creating PHCSA,” he said.
Agency chair Rex Hassam said he asked county Commissioner Susan Latvala, who represents northern Pinellas residents, to remember when considering the new district that the PHCSA board is established in a separate ordinance. That county ordinance specifies that the Palm Harbor Friends of the Library, the Greater Palm Harbor Chamber of Commerce and Palm Harbor Youth Recreation League each name two appointees to the board, with the board of commissioners choosing the seventh member.
If the East Lake taxing district is approved and the PHCSA board named its governing entity, the ordinance outlining the agency would have to be amended to accommodate representatives specifically from East Lake.
“What they should do is make it effective in the time period that allows them to pass the ordinance that amends the board,” Salzmann said.
Board member Marcus Harrison suggested that the board be increased to a total of nine members with two appointed to represent East Lake, rather than adjusting the current appointments.
“There’s a lot to be worked out,” Hassam said. “I’ve got the impression from everybody on this board that whatever they want us to do, we’ll do it.”