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Libraries oppose co-op proposal
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PALM HARBOR – The board overseeing the Palm Harbor and East Lake libraries will be stating in a letter that its members “strongly oppose” the Pinellas Public Library Cooperative interlocal agreement as currently drafted by Pinellas’ city managers.

The current agreement, which has fostered cooperation between 14 independent libraries in Pinellas County, will expire in September 2013. Since efforts to negotiate a new agreement began, the members of the Palm Harbor Community Services Agency board have felt excluded from the discussions, specifically those between the various city managers.

“(We’ve) not been asked to participate,” board member Marcus Harrison said at the agency’s Nov. 28 meeting. “It’s like they didn’t want any more input from us. They shut us out.”

Harrison did acknowledge that he and Roger Johnson, representing the East Lake Community Library Advisory Board, did participate in an initial meeting with the city managers.

“And I thought Marcus and I were very nice, but we were not invited back,” Johnson commented.

While most of the members of the Pinellas Public Library Cooperative fall within the oversight of a city government, the communities of Palm Harbor and East Lake aren’t incorporated. Palm Harbor residents within a special taxing district directly fund their library and recreation services. The Palm Harbor Community Services Agency oversees those funds.

East Lake Community Library was added to the Pinellas Public Library Cooperative as a non-independent unit of Palm Harbor Library, supported only by funds from the cooperative and the Pinellas County board of commissioners. East Lake library supporters have long cried foul that the method through which they receive funding is unfair, because a disproportionate amount of unincorporated tax dollars that support the cooperative come from East Lake’s higher property values.

This year, the library will receive about $243,000 from the county and $158,970 from the cooperative, a budget that isn’t enough to support the community’s population of about 31,000, library director Patricia Perez has said. She was hoping that the new interlocal agreement would address some of the funding disparity.

“I am so discouraged,” she said recently. “I’m convinced that the interlocal agreement will do nothing to correct the inequality in comparison to the other libraries.”

Perez commented Nov. 28 that the current draft of the agreement doesn’t substantially change how the libraries are run.

“In my opinion, it’s worse than it is now,” agency chair Rex Haslam said.

The cooperative currently has nine members on its board. The current draft calls for an 11-member board, including the cooperative director and the chair of the Library Directors Advisory Council as non-voting members. The cities of Clearwater, Largo, Pinellas Park, Dunedin and St. Petersburg will each have a representative. Two members will respectively represent the cities of Seminole, Safety Harbor and Oldsmar and the cities of Gulfport and St. Pete Beach.

One member will be charged with representing the city of Tarpon Springs, the Palm Harbor Community Services Agency and the East Lake Community Library.

Haslam said the city-appointed members will have the larger portion of the representation.

“There’s not enough representation to outvote them,” he said.

The agency board agreed to let Haslam draft a letter stating its members’ opposition to the current draft, to counter the letters of support from Pinellas County cities. They also emphasized a need for the libraries’ respective advisory boards also to draft letters in opposition of the draft.

Haslam agreed to write the letter. As of Dec. 12, he had not completed it yet.

Perez said she preferred to see East Lake library taxes to go directly to the community’s library, instead of being funneled through the library cooperative.

“I would like to see the library supported by the people in the community … so people have voice in what goes on in the library,” she said.
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