Budget allows new libraries, property tax cut


Published: Saturday, October 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, October 1, 2005 at 12:00 a.m.

A $13.5 million 2006 budget that includes money to expand libraries, lengthen hours and even build a cafe in the downtown Gainesville headquarters - with a property tax cut to boot - has been approved.

The Alachua County Library District Governing Board agreed to drop the property tax millage rate about 3.9 percent from 1.6566 mills to 1.5920 mills. That would be about $199 for a house valued at $150,000 with a $25,000 homestead exemption.

Overall revenues increased about 12 percent because of the increased value of property in the county.

"It's always good to be able to lower taxes but at the same time improve the level of services," said Gainesville City Commissioner Craig Lowe, chairman of the library board. "We wanted to make sure it was something that was financially sound for the library to do and that we would still be able to meet the needs of citizens."

The budget includes money that will start a 20-year process of building new libraries in east Gainesville and Jonesville. Also planned is the expansion of existing branches or construction of new ones where the libraries are now in rented space.

First in line for 2006 is the Alachua library expansion at a cost of more than $1 million. State grants of $300,000 to $500,000 are expected to offset the costs, said library director Sol Hirsch.

Among the most costly projects will be $2.8 million for a Jonesville library in 2013 and $1.4 million for an east Gainesville facility in 2008.

Hirsch said the new libraries and expansions will be paid out of the district's regular budget without bonding or other financing. The total estimated cost is more than $12.5 million with grants of $3.5 million to $5.1 million.

"We are going to try to do one library a year over the next 15 years or so," Hirsch said. "We've been very fortunate. My predecessor, Ann Williams, did a great job of putting some money away. And I think with our current millage we will be able to take care of these projects. If we don't get all of the grants, it may mean shifting some projects around. But I anticipate getting the grants."

Meanwhile, most county libraries will be open more hours. The Gainesville headquarters, for instance, will open at 9:30 a.m. rather than 10 a.m. on weekdays and Saturday. It will stay open an hour later on Friday.

Similar action will be taken at several branches. In all, the libraries will be open an extra 28 hours a week.

Also planned is a small cafe that will serve coffee and food such as pastries. A balcony will be redesigned for the cafe. A local vendor will be found to provide the coffee and food. Hirsch said the cafe will have cushy furniture so that patrons can read or study there.

Public library cafes are not new but are a growing trend. Susan Hartman, administrator of the Boulder Public Library System in Boulder, Colo., said the main building has had one for about 10 years.

"As a service, everyone loves it. It's on our library bridge, which is an enclosed corridor that spans a creek. There are windows looking out the creek - it's a lovely location," Hartman said. "We have a literacy program, and we see a lot of tutoring going on there. But it is used by all groups - the college kids come and use it as well."

New technology is also coming. Hirsch said the library will begin implementing a system that checks out books and other materials through the use of a radio frequencies. A stack of materials can be checked at one time.

Lowe said that the lowered millage rate does not mean the library does not still need private donations, particularly through the Friends of the Library organization.

Cindy Swirko can be reached at (352) 374-5024 or swirkoc@ gvillesun.com.

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