Draft library schedule would mean seven-day service for large branches

08/19/2014 6:23 PM

08/19/2014 7:08 PM

A higher library tax would mean a return to seven-day hours for some of Miami-Dade’s largest branches under a new plan by Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s administration.

A summary of proposed hours released Tuesday afternoon shows five branches adding back Sunday service to their schedules. The branches are Miami Beach, North Dade, South Dade, West Dade and West Kendall. Each currently operates on a Monday-through-Saturday schedule thanks to past budget cuts, but would be open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays under the draft schedule.

In July, county commissioners voted to allow an increase in the county property tax that funds Miami-Dade’s 49 library branches, and the extra dollars from that rate would bring about an 6 percent increase to the system’s current $50 million budget. Mayor Carlos Gimenez recently said he wanted to use extra funding to allow for expanded hours, and this is the first glance at the details of that plan.

“The mayor has taken advantage of the fact that this is a better budget outlook than projected,” said Michael Hernández, communications director for Gimenez.

With an extra $3 million to spend in the face of rising labor costs, the higher tax does not mean much of a windfall for the library system. Advocates had wanted a tax increase large enough to fund a $64 million budget, which they said would allow the branches to undo cuts imposed during Gimenez’s three years in office. Still, library administrators say they’re ready to at least double the system’s current $1 million materials budget next year, according to two people briefed by administrators on Friday.

Lynn Summers, an advocate for increased library funding, said Tuesday that the new schedule and promises of increased budget dollars were welcome news from County Hall. In proposing his budget in early July, Gimenez recommended a smaller tax ceiling than commissioners approved on July 15 , and he has not yet officially endorsed setting the rate at the maximum amount allowed by the commission vote.

We are “thrilled with the preliminary work of the library system’s staff, and with the support of the mayor,’’ Summers said on behalf of the group Coalition to Save our Libraries.

At a budget town hall Tuesday night, Gimenez touted the new operating plan to a Florida City audience and said the new dollars could bring more than just expanded hours. “We actually hope to add some programming in our libraries,” he said during a presentation inside the city commission chambers.

The operating schedule released Tuesday by interim library director Gia Arbogast remains a draft, and could change by the time commissioners approve the county’s budget in September. The new schedule includes changes for 12 smaller branches, with current closed days being swapped for current open days.

The Opa-locka branch, for instance, would close on Saturday in order to provide hours on Friday, currently a dark day for the facility. In Coral Gables, the county library branch would close Thursday in order to be open on Sunday. The new budget year begins Oct. 1.

While the largest branches currently provide six days of service, most county libraries are only open five days. In an email, Arbogast said her staff still wants to expand the schedule.

“We are looking at going from 5 days to 6 days of service at locations with heavy use,” she wrote.

Currently, the library system provides a total of 1,988 hours of service each week. Under the new plan, that would increase by 1.8 percent, to 2,023 hours of service. Next year, Miami-Dade also will close its California Club branch but open a new Northeast branch as a replacement.

Miami Herald staff writer Patricia Mazzei contributed to this report.

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