Miami-Dade commissioners on Monday endorsed bringing libraries into county park buildings in an effort to ease the budget crunch facing the library system.
The commission’s Cultural Affairs and Recreation Committee endorsed asking voters in November to rewrite the county charter to exempt libraries from use restrictions at county parks. The proposal now moves to the full commission, but committee members said they weren’t eager to loosen restrictions on parks.
“I’m very skeptical that if we open this up, others will take advantage of it,’’ Commissioner Jean Monestime said. “I don’t want to do anything that takes away from our parks space.”
Voters would need to approve any changes to the parks rules, which are covered under Article 7 of the county charter. The plan approved Monday would put an amendment on the November ballot allowing libraries in existing parks buildings.
Moving some libraries into recreational buildings surfaced as a way to save money in the face of a $20 million budget gap in the library department. The library system has survived on cash reserves following a 2011 cut to the special property tax that funds the system, but the surplus is forecast to be gone by the fall. Miami-Dade pays rent for some branches located in shopping centers and other retail locations — money that could be saved if the libraries were moved to county buildings.
Parks advocates slammed the plan as permanently sacrificing green space for the sake of a short-term funding problem.
“The idea of removing the one protection we have for our parks is shocking,’’ said Celeste De Palma, outreach coordinator for the Tropical Audubon Society in Miami. “These are parks we need to protect and keep for the enjoyment of future generations.”
The plan’s sponsor is Commissioner Esteban “Steve” Bovo, whose district includes Hialeah, which uses its city parks buildings to house libraries as well as police and fire stations. Bovo argued the library plan would allow Miami-Dade to lure more residents to parks and boost the overall enjoyment of recreational centers that are under-used.
“There is no intent here to commercialize our parks,’’ he said. “There is no intent here to remove green space.”
Barbara Falsey, vice president of the Urban Environment League of Greater Miami, said adding a library to a park facility brings its own set of complications. “I don’t think you can have libraries in one place with someone saying, ‘Shhh, people are doing their homework,’ and basketball and Zumba somewhere else,” she told commissioners.
Bovo’s original proposal included a provision allowing Miami-Dade to build athletic dormitories in some parks to accommodate large tournaments and camps. The four-member Cultural Affairs committee rejected that provision, but agreed to exempt from Article 7 a single stretch of parkland slated for a privately run soccer complex.
That land was operated as the Northwest 58th Street Landfill in the 1980s and then cleaned up for conversion to park land. Miami-Dade is offering about 50 acres to developers interested in building housing and eight public soccer fields to accommodate regional and national soccer tournaments, said parks chief Jack Kardys. The charter already exempts a number of county parks from construction restrictions, and the proposed amendment would add the 58th Street site to the list.
Commissioners Barbara Jordan, Jean Monestime and Javier Souto voted to send the revised charter amendment to the full commission. Commissioner Xavier Suarez voted against. Souto, the committee’s chair, said Miami-Dade shouldn’t let the downside of the library proposal prevent the good it could do.
“We know in some of our parks, we have facilities that could be converted into libraries. We wouldn’t have to buy anything,” Souto said. “The easiest thing is to say, ‘No way, José.’ It’s like saying, ‘Let’s not build any cars’ because cars are going to kill people.”