Will a Straw Poll Save Miami-Dade Public Library?

Posted Thursday, March 27, 2014 - 10:22
Miami-Dade Public Library

Voters in Miami-Dade County, Florida, may get a chance this summer to weigh in on whether they are willing to pay higher property taxes in order to fill a $20 million FY2015 deficit that would decimate public library services. Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos A. Giménez floated the straw-poll idea March 19 after a blue-ribbon task force submitted a proposal that offered two scenarios (PDF file) based on either maintaining current funding levels or enduring a 40% budget cut, from $50 million in FY2014 to $30 million for FY2015.

Neither alternative, the former favored by Miami-Dade Public Library Director Raymond Santiago, is ideal. To maximize services with FY2014 funding levels, the taskforce envisions redistributing resources, which would entail more part-time staff, consolidated supervision of library departments, and a reemphasis on core services in order to free up funding to buy materials. The $20 million budget cut would result in four-day-a-week service at most branches, draconian staffing and programming cuts, and a reduced bookmobile schedule. “There’s going to be pain,” Santiago said of the $50 million proposal in the March 19 Miami Herald. “This is not a budget anybody would be jumping up and down for. But it’s a reality.”

The library had teetered on the brink of a similar doomsday scenario this past summer, facing the prospect of the same $20 million deficit forcing the layoff of 251 library workers and the closure of 22 of the system’s 49 branches. Instead, Miami-Dade commissioners plugged the gap in September with the withdrawal of $20 million from the county reserve fund.

Aware that the reserve couldn’t generate a second-such fiscal miracle, Mayor Giménez created a Blue Ribbon Taskforce to Study the Future of the Miami-Dade County Public Library System last fall. The 17-member group included ALA President Barbara Stripling, Public Library Association (PLA) President Carolyn Anthony, ALA Executive Director Keith Michael Fiels, Office for Library Advocacy Director Marci Merola, and PLA Executive Director Barbara Macikas.

In a March 18 letter to Mayor Giménez, Stripling and Anthony commended the mayor “on your forward thinking” for commissioning the Blue Ribbon Taskforce and urging the mayor to fund the library system at FY2014 levels. “Given your county’s unique geographic location and cultural makeup,” they wrote (PDF file), Miami-Dade Public Library “is serving as a gateway to America, providing essential free and equitable access to information and opportunity for success, regardless of race, sex, age, or gender [and] conveys what it means to live in a democracy and to be an American.”

The letter goes on to say that a $20 million budget cut will “leave a hollow shell in place of the fine public library system that you have created and which has been a source of well-deserved community pride.”

If Mayor Giménez polls voters this summer and gets a green light for a property-tax hike from $17.25 to $28.40 per $100,000 of valuation, the issue would go before the county commission this fall. The mayor indicated in the Herald that he was open to a nonbinding voter referendum, adding, “I do believe the libraries need additional funding.” The poll would also ask voters about hikes to better fund county parks and cultural events.

Comments

Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s blue-ribbon panel was, sadly, a political scheme dressed up as his concern for libraries. Over $100,000 in tax revenue was pulled from the library's budget to hire consultant pollsters and take surveys. The panel’s recommendation to increase the budget and enhance library services was then ignored. Instead, two scenarios were unveiled at the panel’s final meeting and both reduced services. This self-created fiscal crisis has bankrupted our library system. Yet, three years ago, Miami-Dade Public Library System was flush with $60 million in cash reserves. This was money set aside to renovate worn out facilities across the county. Today, left with a trimmed budget, the libraries limp along with too few staffers, too few books, outdated laptops and leaking roofs. Our mayor’s answer: Even less staff, with fewer hours. Why didn't he order a third option recommended by his own Blue a Ribbon Panel's (along with the Library Advisory Board) to raised millage and enhance services? http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=hGqARN4wUXg