Chop, Chop, Will the Library Go?
By Vicki Jackson
The Beach Library is in a fight for its life once again. Response to a request from Clearwater City Manager, Bill Horne, which calls for a five per cent reduction from budget year 2009/2010 in all city departments, has put the nearly new facility on the proposed "close" list. The beautiful Beach Pool is on the chopping block with it, and there's even talk of filling it in.
Friends of the Clearwater Beach Library and Recreation Center held an urgent meeting last Thursday at the Center, to alert and inform beach residents of the possibility of losing this star in the crown of Clearwater Beach.
The Beach Library has been threatened repeatedly for many years. It was displaced by the infamous roundabout, and eventually squeezed out of its cost-prohibitive rental space in Pelican Walk, before being relegated to a trailer pending remodeling of the Recreation Center. Patient and dedicated volunteers, staff, and the community at last celebrated the delightful facility they have called home only in recent years. A ten-year resident described it as, "one of the best things they ever did for the elderly and the young." One youth lamented, "I just now got old enough to go to the library and pool alone, and now they want to close it!"
According to the "Friends," the library director has reported an increase in usage over last year, of twenty-five percent, despite a bare-bones staff. With the invaluable aid of volunteers, the library also serves as the major computer center on the beach, with residents and visitors keeping the computers in use from opening until closing every day. Statistics show that, unlike some other libraries in the system, the Beach Library is used overwhelmingly, at ninety-five percent, by beach residents and tourists-whose abodes are taxed by Clearwater.
It's commonly stated that while the islands of Clearwater Beach, Island Estates, and Sand Key together have just ten percent of the population of Clearwater, they pay a whopping forty percent of the taxes. Projected revenues, due to declining property values and decreased sales tax collections, are expected to result in short falls of more than $8 Million for the City budget in 2011. Paring will indeed be necessary, across-the-board.
"Friends" spokesperson, Pat Powers, is disturbed by the fact that while only four facilities are marked to be closed, all of those are on the west side of Clearwater-and nothing on the east. Further, there is no public transportation for current patrons of the beach library to get to the main library. Regarding the proposed closing of valuable beach resources, she opined, "I think it's easier to slice and dice than to manage an organization. The slasher management style doesn't do it-it's still functioning inefficiently." She claimed the City "doesn't work as a responsible efficient system," citing a recent application for a routine permit, wherein she was required to get seven city employees to sign-off on the paperwork.
As evidenced by the material presented, which included statistics and budget issues, "Friends" representatives Ron Delp and Pat Power had done their homework. Although the display was too small for most of the crowd to view, and the air-conditioning system made hearing difficult for people in the back of the room, participation in the question and answer session was enthusiastic. Attendees were invited to gather in small groups and come up with their own thoughts and suggestions toward managing the City budget, yet keeping the Beach Library and Pool.
Popular remedies included using money from the inflated Reserve Funds to supplement the budget and decreasing management expenses through a twenty percent reduction in staffing for the next five years. Support was given for implementation of a strong mayor system, with elimination of the City Manager position. One resident suggested simply closing all pools and libraries for one hour more each week. Other long-term solutions submitted were acceptance of the Sheriff's recommendations for the police department, or budget compliance with them, as well as a comprehensive review of all city functions toward re-engineering the system.
Judging by a show of hands, those views will be supported when the City of Clearwater council meets at 6:00 p.m., June 17, at City Hall. The City Manager is expected to present his cost-cutting recommendations at that time and to submit a budget proposal around the end of the month.
Comments and suggestions may be submitted to council members:
Frank Hibbard Frank.Hibbard@myclearwater.com
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