PALM HARBOR – For the first time in six years, The Centre and the Palm Harbor Library were able to collect the full amount of tax revenue granted to the entities by the residents of Palm Harbor.
Library Director Gene Coppola and Centre Director Erica Lynford celebrated by conservatively parking the majority of the combined increase in capital funds, slated for future repairs, maintenance and upgrades.
“I’d rather take a conservative approach,” Coppola said, explaining that he didn’t know if the library would receive the same amount of revenue next year. “I’m not counting on it, but I do have a plan in place if we do get the increase.”
For the past several years, leaders of the two entities have asked the county commission to allow them to collect the maximum property tax rate they’re allocated to collect in order to make up for falling property values that has strained their budgets. In lieu of a city government, Palm Harbor residents pay an extra tax toward Community Services District. That in turn pays for the Palm Harbor library as well as the recreation services provided by The Centre of Palm Harbor.
For the last five years, the rate has been set at 0.4378 mills, which means homeowners pay 44 cents for every $1,000 worth in taxable value on their property. This year, the county approved the maximum rate the district is allowed to collect: 0.5 mills.
“For the first time in six years, the Centre and the library have both received the full half mill,” Coppola explained Sept. 19 to the Palm Harbor Community Services Agency, which oversees both entities. “That turned out to be real big dollars (for the library): approximately $90,000.”
Before the changes, the library had a budget of about $1,153,080. With the extra funds, the library is saved from having to dip into its capital fund as it did last year, and Coppola can give library staff a 4 percent raise, he explained. He said he thought long and hard about what to do with the about $30,000 left.
“I didn’t want to do my knee jerk response and add staff members. I don’t know if I’m going to be able to support it in years to come,” he said.
Coppola said he instead hopes, at the beginning of the next fiscal year, to invest at least 1 percent of the library’s budget into the capital fund.
“Right now, we have no revenue going into that,” he said
The funds currently saved for future repairs and maintenance won’t be enough to cover expenses like replacing the roof and air-conditioning units in the next five years.
If, however, the county does approve the half mill tax rate next year as well, Coppola said he could unfreeze positions and eventually open the library for more hours during the week. The library has had to go from 27 to 19 staff members, which forced Coppola to cut back hours.
“If we do get the half mill again next year, I think we’re going to see it in a few years to come. But I want to see that second year in the row,” he said.
Lynford agreed, adding that fewer residents voiced their opposition to the tax rate hike in front of the commission this year.
“It bodes well in our favor that only six people showed up in opposition to it,” she said.
Lynford also saw the value of saving some of the extra funds she received.
“I put almost half of the money that we received in capital replacement renewal, with the same anticipation that we’re not getting any younger,” she said.
A large capital expense is looming closer in the case of The Centre, which has a leaking roof. The county, which owns the building, has agreed to help shoulder the cost, but the parameters of the partnership hadn’t been determined yet.
The PHCSA board unanimously approved both budgets.
Coppola also explained that the library was due for an upgrade.
“We’re going to be doing our first phase of our mini renovation project in the library, which is indicative of how libraries are moving more from print to digital age,” he said.
Changes were to include removing some book ranges, utilizing more portable walls so the library can provide conference rooms on the fly and investing in an electronic white board to be used in a collaborative work area.
“And we’re going to get at least half a dozen additional computers,” he said.