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East Lake library goes it alone with dedicated funding

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Published:   |   Updated: May 22, 2013 at 12:02 PM
CLEARWATER -

East Lake residents are about to start funding their library on their own through a local taxing district.

With little contention Tuesday night, Pinellas County commissioners unanimously voted to separate the East Lake library from a countywide cooperative consisting of 15 library systems. The new ordinance creates a special taxing district that will collect property taxes to run the library.

“Glad we finally got this done,” said Roger Johnson, vice chair of the East Lake Library Advisory Board. “We’ve been working on this for years, and it’s only fair that the East Lake Library’s library tax money comes back to the East Lake Library.”

That hasn’t been the case since the library opened in 1999. It has always been part of the Pinellas Public Library Cooperative, which has a 15 library systems made up of 26 member facilities, including Palm Harbor and East Lake. That agreement expires at the end of September.

Those pushing for the East Lake Library taxing district argued that the community’s 30,000 or so residents pay significantly more into the cooperative than they get back. Out of the nearly $1 million the community contributed last year, East Lake’s library only got back about $400,000.

The ordinance establishes the same boundaries for the new taxing district as the ones that enclose the East Lake Tarpon Special Fire Control District.

It also sets the maximum millage for the library at 0.25, which, as a dedicated funding source, would generate revenue in excess of the library’s current funding level.

“The library gets more money, and the property owners get a tax decrease,” Johnson said. “It’s a win-win.”

Although there was relatively little discussion, there were questions over whether the move gave special treatment to East Lake.

“There are other unincorporated areas of our county that pay 4 percent,” said County Commissioner Janet Long. “My issue here is a sense of fairness.”

Advocates said the district gets special treatment because it’s a special case.

“The other unincorporated areas of Pinellas County don’t have libraries,” said Commissioner Susan Latvala. “What [residents of those areas] are paying for is access to all the libraries in the county.”

The library has a laundry list of things its administrators hope the new revenue will fund, including longer hours of operation, higher salaries for staff and new computers.

“I feel it’s really the heart of the community,” said Pat Hartlaub, president of the nonprofit Friends of the East Lake Library. “We’re really stretched as far as being able to do what we want to do with the library.”

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