Funds to buy children’s books would triple under new Miami-Dade library budget


Instead of spending $90,000 a year on its youngest readers, Miami-Dade would spend $420,000. Expanded branch hours are also a part of the higher-tax plan.

Jeannie Sensale, teaching artist with the Florida Grand Opera, reads the collection of poems titled Carnival of the Animals by John Lithgow at the Kendale Lakes Branch Library in West Kendall in this March 2013 file photo.
Jeannie Sensale, teaching artist with the Florida Grand Opera, reads the collection of poems titled Carnival of the Animals by John Lithgow at the Kendale Lakes Branch Library in West Kendall in this March 2013 file photo.

Miami-Dade County would use a higher library tax to expand operating hours and to more than triple its budget for buying children’s books, according to a proposal Mayor Carlos Gimenez released Friday.

With about $8 million more to spend than Gimenez proposed in his original library budget, Miami-Dade could add an extra day of operations for 12 of the county’s 49 branches, including a return of seven-day service for the five largest. The proposed budget moves the $90,000 currently allotted for children’s books to $420,000 — a 370 percent increase.

“Obviously, we’re pushing heavy into children’s materials here,” said Sue Cvejanovich, the county’s library operations administrator.

The expanded spending plan assumes a majority of commissioners will adopt the higher library tax they endorsed last month. The special property tax that funds Miami-Dade libraries would go up 65 percent, but the county’s general property tax and fire property tax would go down slightly to result in a net increase of less than 1 percent in the combined rates.

Because the library tax is so small — it currently costs about $17 per $100,000 of a property’s assessed value, compared to $470 per $100,000 for the general property tax and $245 for the fire tax — large swings in the library tax can be wiped out by tiny changes in the general and fire taxes.

In July, a majority of commissioners voted to cap the library tax at a rate high enough to undo the 2011 cut that Gimenez championed during his first year as mayor. Commissioners still can set the rate lower when they approve the budget in September, but they cannot set it higher.

The new budget year begins Oct. 1.

While the library tax would soar under Gimenez’s proposed budget (costing about $28 per $100,000 of assessed value), the higher rate means only about $3 million more for the library’s current $50 million budget. Thanks to the 2011 cut, the current library tax only generates about $30 million a year, and the system has closed the gap with reserves that are forecast to be mostly drained this fall.

Gimenez originally had proposed a library tax that would generate about $45 million to keep the county’s overall tax rate completely flat, but he has now all but endorsed the commissioners’ vote for a higher tax .

The new library spending plan was revealed in a memo to commissioners that Gimenez released Friday afternoon outlining a series of changes made to the budget he submitted in early July. He has spent the last several weeks backing off a plan for more than 400 job cuts in the police department, though other job reductions, service cuts and fee increases remain. Gimenez said a string of tentative union contract agreements should allow him to undo more proposed cuts, but Friday’s memo did not detail what changes the labor deals would bring.

In all, the library’s budget for buying printed and digital materials would more than double, going from $1.2 million to $3 million. An extra $2 million would go toward buying computer-tablet branches, expanding the popular You Media program, and widening the Bookmobile’s schedule.

The children’s budget is part of the overall materials allotment, and librarians said the meager $90,000 forced them to pick and choose which branch got the most popular new juvenile titles. A 2012 survey by Library Journal found Miami-Dade’s current youth budget amounted to what a small city’s library system would have, though the proposed $420,000 line item is still well below the $600,000 most large systems spend on children’s books.

The Gimenez administration already had announced an expanded library schedule for next year, and Friday’s memo included more service additions. Under the proposal, about 25 percent of the library branches would see extended hours, including a return of seven-day service to libraries in Miami Beach, North Dade, South Dade, West Dade and West Kendall. Sunday hours would also return to three other branches: Coral Gables, Lemon City and West Flagler.

Lynn Summers, a leader of the Coalition to Save Our Libraries, praised the new spending details. “Preliminarily, we are pleased to see that services would be restored all across the library system including a doubling of the new materials budget,” she said in a statement. “We are especially pleased to see that the Mayor and his staff responded to the request for expanded operating hours in the urban core with the proposed Sunday openings of the Lemon City and West Flagler branches.”

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