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Community supports East Lake Library
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CLEARWATER - Palm Harbor Library and Recreation District will receive less money for its operations next year. East Lake will receive more, thanks to approval of a separate municipal services taxing unit for East Lake Library.

Pinellas County commissioners gave unanimous approval May 21 to an ordinance establishing a library MSTU for residents inside the boundaries of the East Lake Tarpon Special Fire Control District.

East Lake will be removed from the unincorporated library MSTU. Commissioners now can levy up to .25 mills for library services and facilities for East Lake. The process works much as it does in Palm Harbor where a separate MSTU is levied for library and recreation services.

Commissioners refused to hear a last-minute request from East Lake’s recreation organization to be included in the MSTU. Instead, they recommended that officials in charge of recreational services talk with library officials for the next budget year.

For years, East Lake has been considered a unit of the Palm Harbor Library, which is funded through a dedicated MSTU with a levy of .25 mils and the Pinellas County Library Cooperative. East Lake also received money from the cooperative through its association with Palm Harbor. Since, it did not have an independent funding source, like other libraries, the county had been subsidizing its costs from general revenues. East Lake received $242,990 from the general fund for the current budget year.

Approval of the separate MSTU means taxes for library services will go down for East Lake residents, who were paying the MSTU all unincorporated residents pay for access to municipal libraries. East Lake Library will get more money with its own MSTU. However, the money that Palm Harbor received through the Pinellas County Library Cooperative will go down.

The library cooperative is in the process of revising its budget to reflect the change.

Gene Coppola, director of the Palm Harbor Library, said June 6 that Palm Harbor would receive $108,000 less through library cooperative funding in the coming year.

But there are no hard feelings.

Coppola talked about the possibilities and opportunities the extra money would provide for East Lake.

“This is wonderful. There is so much potential over there,” he said.

But it requires changes for Palm Harbor’s library. Coppola is freezing all positions. He estimated a 25 percent reduction in spending for materials. He is considering reducing cleaning from five nights a week to four and reducing trash pickup services.

“But we’ll still provide the services people expect,” he said. “It will be a little hard, but we’ve done it before and we’ll do it again.”

Coppola and Erica Lynford, director of recreation services at The Centre, said they could get by if commissioners would continue to levy.5 mills for the MSTU.

“Please keep the half mil in place,” Lynford said.

Coppola, who is serving as temporary director of East Lake Library, talked about the improvements in services possible now that East Lake has its own funding source. He said staff was working on a new five-year plan and would kick off community outreach with a public meeting June 17.

He said with the extra $233,000 the MSTU is expected to generate, the library can purchase more DVDs, increase online services and add programming. Staffing can be increased and maybe hours can be extended. More importantly, East Lake Library can begin to put money in a replacement and renewal fund for capital projects.

“They can build a nest egg for the future,” he said.

Roger Johnson from the East Lake Advisory Board said the library had “a long laundry list” of plans, including increasing hours for the library, which also serves as a community center. He said the robotics group wanted the library to open more than two nights and others had requested opening on Sunday afternoons. Johnson said the June 17 meeting would include sending out a questionnaire to everyone via email.

“We want to know what the people want from the new funds,” he said.

The question of who will govern East Lake Library and oversee its spending now that is has an independent funding source still has not been decided. The county did not include governance in the ordinance that created the separate MSTU.

Discussions are ongoing between East Lake and the Palm Harbor Community Services Agency about a governance contract.

Marcus Harrison, vice chair of the PHCSA board, said work had started on making changes to give East Lake direct representation on the board. For the most part, library directors make decisions about operations, and PHCSA board just approves them, he said.

Commissioner Susan Latvala suggested May 21 that PHCSA provide governance for East Lake because it already had experience with insurance, employee payroll and other necessary items of doing business.

No one voiced opposition to creating a separate funding source for East Lake at the May 21 public hearing or the budget workshop on June 6. All the response thus far has been positive.

East Lake resident Barbara Shultz said May 21 that the library was important to residents.

“The heart of East Lake has been operating on a shoestring budget with no reserves, having to reduce hours and service,” she said. “East Lake residents value their library.”

EL Library discussion

PALM HARBOR – The future of the East Lake Library will be the topic of discussion at the next meeting of the Council of North County Neighborhoods Monday, June 17, 7 p.m., at the East Lake Library.

The public is invited.

Discussion will center around a Pinellas County Commission ruling in May related to new taxation for the library and what it means.

The format will be a roundtable discussion with Pinellas Public Library Cooperative Executive Director Mary Brown, PHCSA chairman Rex Haslam and members of the East Lake Library advisory board.
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