Without more tax dollars, Miami-Dade library system would fire more than half its full-time staff

04/10/2014 3:34 PM

04/10/2014 6:41 PM

Without more tax dollars, Miami-Dade County’s library system would fire 56 percent of its full-time staff and bring on part-time workers to operate branches that will see hours cut by an average of 35 percent, according to a document released Thursday.

The draft budget assumes no increase in the coming fiscal year in the special property tax that funds the library system, which has been relying on cash reserves since 2010. The tax currently generates $30 million, but the library’s current budget is $50 million and cash reserves are forecast to be gone by the fall. Mayor Carlos Gimenez says he will not endorse higher taxes without a referendum, leaving library administrators to map out how they would manage a 40 percent drop in funding.

The plan assumes no branch closings. Gimenez instructed library director Raymond Santiago to fashion a $30 million budget with all 49 branches, after facing a firestorm last year when the mayor proposed saving money by closing some of the less-popular branches.

With the budget, Santiago outlined the worst-case scenario for the county’s library system as Gimenez weighs whether to pursue a tax increase. The mayor said Thursday he’s moving forward with a plan to present Miami-Dade commissioners with two county-wide budgets: one without tax increases, and one with more funding for libraries as well as parks and cultural institutions. Gimenez would ask commissioners to set a non-binding “straw poll” for primary day in August, at which voters could support or reject the proposed tax increase.

“Really what I’m looking for is enhanced services for children and the elderly,’’ Gimenez said. He said departments involved in his spending priorities will meet with him next week to outline how they could spend extra money next year.

Santiago released the library’s $30 million spending plan Thursday as part of a public-records request by the Miami Herald. Library advocates had been pressing Gimenez and library administrators to detail how a $50 million budget would be slashed to $30 million, and the draft spending plan shows savings would come from dismantling the current payroll.

The plan shows a current staff of 445 full-time workers dropping 249 positions, to 196, while part-time staff would increase from 41 people to 63. That would result in a total staff of about 259 people, a reduction of 47 percent. Overall payroll expenses would drop by about $12 million, a 50 percent savings, while the library system would save an additional $4 million in costs tied to worker benefits.

Even when then-Mayor Carlos Alvarez ushered in an unpopular tax increase in 2010, his budget also cut the library tax by about 26 percent. Gimenez presided over another 37 percent tax cut after taking office in 2011. The library’s revenues are down 40 percent under his administration and the library’s operating budget is down about 20 percent since 2011.

The new budget offers more fodder to library advocates’ budding campaign to push for a tax increase in order to fund a $64 million budget and reserve some of the scheduling and book-buying cuts already imposed under Gimenez. The American Library Association in March urged Gimenez to reject the $30 million option, saying Miami-Dade’s library system already spends less per person on books and other materials than almost any other library in the nation.

Cutting $20 million from the library’s budget “would have a significant negative impact on the residents of the county, in particular on the children of the county, and would jeopardize the very future of the community,” the association wrote in a March 18 letter to Gimenez.

Advocates are lobbying commissioners to back a higher tax, with hope that an upcoming recommendation from the county’s library advisory group for a $64 million budget will spur a string of public endorsements.

Currently, the library tax costs about $17.25 for every $100,000 of a property’s valuation. To fund the current $50 million budget, the tax would be about $28.40 for every $100,000 and roughly $35 for a $64 million budget.

In an email, Santiago called the $30 million spending plan a preliminary draft ahead of the county-wide budget process set to last several months. His official budget proposal, made public several weeks ago, calls for spending $55 million but also shows a $22 million funding shortfall.

Santiago had already released scheduling details behind the $30 million plan. Most library branches would shave a day off their current five-day schedules, and the number of libraries open just four hours daily would grow to 19, from the current 12.

John Quick, president of the Friends of the Miami-Dade Public Library, described the draft budget as designed to starve the library system to the point that closing branches will be easier in future years. “I look at this proposal as a self-fulfilling prophecy,” he said. “Nobody’s going to use it. Because there will be nothing to use.”

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