Rising high school junior Tiffany Chen recently checked out a copy of The Great Gatsby, part of her summer reading list, from her local library branch in Pinecrest. Her friend uses the same library to study while he waits for his parents to pick him up after school. And yet another friend of Tiffany’s writes and emails her research papers at the Pinecrest branch since she does not have a computer at home.
“Without the library she wouldn’t have been able to turn in her papers because the school library closes really early,” 16-year-old Tiffany told county Mayor Carlos Gimenez Thursday night in Palmetto Bay as part of the second town hall meeting officials held to address residents’ concerns about the proposed 2013-14 budget.
With an 8-4 vote, the county commission agreed to keep a flat tax rate, a decision that resulted in a proposed budget that would close several library branches and three-fire trucks part of the Fire Department. The county has proposed to eliminate 600 positions from all of its departments.
Even though the Pinecrest Library Branch is not on the chopping block, Tiffany said the proposal to shut down other libraries still worries her.
“If it can happen in other places, it can eventually happen in Pinecrest, too,” she told the Miami Herald.
At the town hall, part of a series of six meetings, Gimenez told a crowd of more than 200 that 13 library branches are now on the chopping block. Prior to that, 14 facilities faced the ax but recently staff was able to save the California Club branch near Aventura. Like other libraries that may close, California Club is located in a shopping plaza, which increases its cost as the county has to pay rent. County Senior Advisor Lisa Martinez said the California Club library will be saved after a renegotiation of the lease cut rent in half.
That was not much consolation to book lovers, some of whom held signs reading ‘Libraries are the Future of our Kids’ and ‘Books Open Minds,’ and chided officials for the proposed budget cuts.
“I support literacy. I support our libraries,” said Ruth Trencher, 74-year-old retired teacher.
“If your proposed 0.297 millage rate had stayed in place as I had hoped it would, my tax bill for the year for the library would have been $7.33. I can’t buy Netflix for a month for that. You spoke of 600 jobs being lost this year. I understand that 251 library jobs are on the list, “ she continued, saying that the cuts disproportionately affect libraries.
In his response, Gimenez said that the county has four different taxing jurisdictions and money cannot be transferred from one to the other. The county library system and the Fire Department each have their own tax jurisdiction.
“We are open to suggestions. We are open to ideas. We are open to help,” Gimenez told Trencher.
“I would be delighted to help. Would you open the question back up to the commissioners again?” she asked, referring to the possibility of increasing taxes.
“I can sit here and be very popular and say yes, but I am not going to because I don’t believe we need to raise taxes,” said Gimenez, whose statement was followed by jeers from the audience.
Firefighters also spoke their mind at the town hall. Under the proposed budget, the Fire Department faces the elimination of three fire trucks.