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Library director predicts tough budget year
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PALM HARBOR – Palm Harbor Library Director Gene Coppola is already bracing for the library’s tightest budget yet.

“This is probably the worst year this library is going to experience since it began, or close to it,” he told the Palm Harbor Community Services Agency board July 17. “The only good thing, the only bright light in this entire thing is we have now hit rock bottom.”

At rock bottom, the library is freezing three part-time positions, cleaning the building less and eliminating rugs and towels and no longer paying for online training webinars for its staff and the community. It still is open to the public only three hours more than the minimum required by the state statute. Coppola is considering increasing the temperature of the building to save on energy costs.

And the library fund is still about $67,505 short in funds.

“Patrons are going to complain. We’re not going to have enough staff. The wait time is going to be longer. Staff is going to be more harassed. There’s going to be less material on the shelves,” Coppola predicted. “Frankly, there’s no way of (sugar)-coating this whole thing. It’s going to be a terrible financial year.”

The shortage comes primarily because of reduced funding from the Pinellas Public Library Cooperative. The establishment of the East Lake Community Library’s municipal services taxing unit will give the library dedicated, property tax funding directly from the residents it serves for the first time. But the new tax district will siphon funding from the library cooperative funding that is distributed to other libraries.

One of those libraries is Palm Harbor. While last year’s budget was $1,162,280, this year Coppola is looking at an overall budget of $1,032,920, short $129,360.

Coppola cut the deficient in half in part by personnel changes: freezing the three positions, decreasing all part-time hours from 31 hours a week to 24, converting a full time position to a part-time one and making only the 1 percent minimum in matching IRA contributions. The building will be cleaned only four times a week instead of five and library materials will be reduced by 25 percent.

Still, the $67,505 deficient will be made up with money from capital savings. Another $18,200 will pay for increased annual fees and maintenance for participation in the cooperative’s automation system, which was already anticipated as an additional expense for the upcoming fiscal year, Coppola said. That means the fund will lose $88,705.

“I’ve got a little over $200,000 left in capital funds after this, which I don’t want to touch because I don’t want to forfeit our future to pay for our present,” he explained. “But frankly, I don’t know. Unless someone wants to make a donation to this library, the next couple of years, it is going to be very bad.”

Coppola said the positive from the situation came at least in knowing how the library would handle the very minimal amount of funds. No more money can be expected from the cooperative. The library already is receiving its portion of property tax, or ad valorum, funds – received through the highest rate possible from Palm Harbor’s own municipal services taxing unit. As property values in the Palm Harbor district improve, so will the district’s tax revenue.

“It will get better in years to come, but the question is how much and how fast are we going to get those ad valorum dollars,” Coppola said.

If the situation doesn’t improve fast enough, Coppola said layoffs were possible next year.

Given the extreme conditions of the upcoming year, Coppola said he was still recommending a 2 percent increase to staff salaries in the upcoming year.

“They deserve it. They work hard. It’s going to be tough for them,” he said.

Coppola made his presentation to the Palm Harbor Community Services Agency, which oversees the library and the other recipient of funding from Palm Harbor’s taxing district: Palm Harbor Parks and Recreation.

Parking lot moves forward

After much back and forth on costs and feasibility, the Palm Harbor Library Director Gene Coppola settled on an increase of 20 new spaces in the library parking.

Construction on the parking lot began in July. The project has been pending for several months due to delays in the bidding and design process. The latest hitch in the project was the cost of moving a transformer. Neither the library nor the foundation could support the extra cost, bringing the project down to a total of 16 spaces. However, the library received good news.

“The contractor was able to look at the parking lot, and he said he would be able to angle in four more spaces at the southern end of it, Coppola said.
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