Libraries make plea to preserve crucial state funding


Vivian Filer, vice-chair of the Alachua County Library District's Board of Trustees, holds hands with State Rep. Charles "Chuck" Chestnut, left, and Gainesville City Commissioner Scherwin Henry, right, following the board's meeting with local officials at the Millhopper Library Branch on Wednesday.

Doug Finger/Staff photographer
Published: Wednesday, January 19, 2011 at 7:32 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 19, 2011 at 7:32 p.m.

Outside library branches in Levy County, crowds often gather after hours.

It happens enough that Levy Library Director Lisa Brasher told local law enforcement not to overly concern themselves about break-in attempts.

In a county where 67 percent of the households lack Internet service, the people typically are there with laptops to link to the library system's wi-fi connection in order to search for jobs.

That, said Brasher, is just one example of how the public continues to rely on libraries.

Meanwhile, the Yankeetown Woman's Club holds bake sales to pay the electric bill at the AF Knotts Public Library, a building the club owns.

In a library system in Levy County with five branches, two full-time employees and 563 volunteers, that is one way the community works to raise funds, Brasher said.

Wednesday morning at the Millhopper Branch Library in Gainesville, Brasher joined Alachua County Library Director Sol Hirsch and members of the Alachua system's Board of Trustees in lobbying for the preservation of a funding source that provides a financial lifeline for small library systems such as Levy's. That lifeline is money from state government.

"No state aid means no wi-fi," Brasher said. "It means nothing. We won't be able to keep the doors open."

Brasher said the Levy library system receives $78,000 from the state this year, down from a high of nearly $120,000 in fiscal year 2003-04. The book-buying budget, she said, is $43 per library each month.

In the face of a projected $3.6 billion state budget shortfall, the assembled state officials — Rep. Chuck Chestnut, D-Gainesville, and aides for state Rep. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, and state Sen. Steve Oelrich, R-Cross Creek — could make no funding commitments.

"Of course, if the budget continues to have deficits, I can't make any promises," Chestnut said.

He added that he would fight to get his district its "fair share" of any state funding.

At this point, library directors and volunteers have some encouraging news — at least for the 2011-12 fiscal year. Gov. Rick Scott's transition team has recommended maintaining state library funding at the current level, $21.3 million.

That amount of funding makes the state's counties eligible for up to $9 million in additional federal grants.

Still, as elected officials discuss rolling back spending to the levels of four or five years back, Brasher said she'd like state library spending "rolled back" to 10 years ago. It was $33.4 million then, more than $12 million above current state spending.

As a separate, special government district with taxing authority, Alachua County's library system has a more stable funding source and fiscal situation than Levy and many other counties.

This year, the Alachua Library District levies a property tax rate of approximately 1.4736 mills — a little less than $1.50 for every $1,000 of taxable value — to raise nearly $17.8 million.By comparison, the Alachua district will receive $450,000 in state funds this year. That's down about $450,000 from 10 years ago.

Hirsch also pointed out opportunities the district is working to raise revenues. A lease for a potential cell tower at the Tower Road Branch Library property could bring in more than $30,000 annually. Leases allowing private firms to install solar panels on the roofs of the Millhopper branch and library headquarters could bring in an additional $27,000, he said.

Hirsch noted that in a down economy, the public turns to libraries — and their computer terminals — to search for jobs. He said the local district offers a database, JobNow, that helps with resume-building and interview tips.

"To the average household, a library is not fluff," Alachua library trustee Dorothy Field said. "It's a safety net."

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