Miami-Dade’s public libraries need a $20 million infusion this year to avoid steep cuts to staffing and operating hours. But county voters don’t want their property taxes raised to pay for it, according to a Miami Herald/el Nuevo Herald poll.
Asked if they would support stemming the reductions with a tax-rate hike of about $25 more a year for the average homeowner, poll respondents opposed the increase by 56-41 percent, the survey by Bendixen & Amandi International found. The poll also gauged public opinion on a proposed expansion by Florida International University.
Opposition to the library tax hike was consistent across all age groups, though stronger with older voters who are more likely to cast ballots in local elections. Poll numbers also showed an ethnic divide over the issue, with 69 percent of non-Hispanic whites favoring the higher tax rate, compared to 68 percent of Hispanics opposing it. Black voters were against 55-40 percent.
Republican and independent voters disagreed with a tax increase by large numbers — 66 percent and 61 percent, respectively — with Democrats narrowly favoring it 50-47 percent. The poll’s error margin is plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.
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“One of the things that we kept hearing over and over again was that people felt that the libraries are less and less relevant to life in this community, and that technology is making libraries much more unnecessary,” said Fernand Amandi, who conducted the poll of 400 registered voters last week. “As a result, they’re unwilling to keep public dollars going into something they don’t view as relevant.”
A county task force recommended the increase to keep libraries, which are already struggling, funded at existing levels. But Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who convened the group, has said he’s unwilling to heed their suggestion. The mayor has also dropped an idea he floated earlier this year to ask voters in a straw poll to accept a new property tax to fund libraries, parks and cultural institutions.
“It was pretty easy for them to say, ‘Raise taxes,’ but as mayor, I have to take into account the opinions of the entire community,” Gimenez told the Miami Herald. “They want a leaner, more efficient government. They don’t feel they have it yet.”
On Monday, commissioners considered a plan by Esteban “Steve” Bovo to reduce rental costs in the system by moving libraries into park buildings.
“Long-term, we need to at least have flexibility” to find cheaper alternatives for libraries, Bovo told his colleagues during a committee meeting.
The poll also asked respondents about Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle’s job approval. After 21 years in office, she remains popular, with voters giving her favorable marks by 62-18 percent. Fifty-three percent say she’s doing a good job fighting public corruption, compared to 34 percent who disagree.
“This showing of confidence is a credit to all the hard work of my lawyers and staff and our reaching out to the community and involving residents in our fight against crime,” Fernández Rundle said in an email. “I’m proud that the people of this community appreciate these efforts.”
Far more interesting were poll results in a question asking about a push by Florida International University, and endorsed by the mayor and county commission, to expand into adjacent county-owned land now leased by the Dade County Youth Fair. Voters don’t appear to be on board with the plan.
By 50-43 percent, poll respondents said they oppose FIU’s expansion onto Tamiami Park. The Youth Fair, which has leased the property through 2040, has estimated that the costs to move the event elsewhere — to be paid by FIU, the county and the state — could range between $200 million and $250 million.
FIU’s base of support appears to lie among Hispanics and Republicans, who agree with the expansion by 58 percent and 56 percent, respectively. But blacks (by 81 percent) and non-Hispanic whites (by 57 percent) oppose the move, as do 59 percent of Democrats. Independents are evenly split 47-48 percent.
Such clear divisions among ethnic groups and political party affiliation could indicate trouble more broadly for FIU to draw community support — and not just in its tussle with the Youth Fair, pollster Amandi said.
“This suggests to me that FIU has an image problem,” he said.
FIU, which prides itself in its high Hispanic graduation rate, has reported demographics that mostly mirror those of Miami-Dade residents as surveyed by the U.S. Census. For example, 61 percent of FIU students are Hispanic, according to the university’s website, as are 64 percent of county residents — and 55 percent of voters.
In a statement, Maydel Santana-Bravo, a spokeswoman for the research university, noted that there was 72 percent support for expanding into the fair grounds — in a completely unscientific online question on the Miami Herald’s website in March.
“We appreciate the support of our elected officials in Miami-Dade County and Tallahassee,” she said. “FIU has and will continue to work tirelessly for a win-win solution for the benefit of our students and the economic growth of our entire community.”
Miami Herald staff writer Douglas Hanks contributed to this report.