Miami-Dade County

Miami-Dade libraries would keep all branches open, but cut service

dhanks@MiamiHerald.comMarch 19, 2014 

Without an increase in the county library tax next year, Miami-Dade would keep all of its 49 branches but move most from a five-day schedule to a four-day schedule, according to a presentation released Wednesday.

Other cost savings would come from sharp payroll reductions and using more part-time workers, limiting the number of books patrons can check out at one time, ending the books-sharing program with libraries outside Miami-Dade, and cutting back the hours on the Bookmobile. The library hopes to encourage self check-outs to save on labor costs, and use a “floating” collection system that would end the practice of each book having a specific library to call home.

Under a $30 million budget, Miami-Dade would restore Sunday service to a handful of branches, including Coral Gables and Northeast. About 40 branches would be open four days, with half of those operating four hours a day.

“There’s going to be pain,’’ said Raymond Santiago, the county’s library director. “This isn’t a budget anybody is going to be jumping up and down over. But it’s a reality.”

The library’s current year’s budget is $50 million, but a special property tax that funds the system only generates about $30 million a year. The library is burning through $20 million in reserves, and the surplus of cash is forecast to be gone by the end of the budget year on Sept. 30.

Santiago’s contingency plan to cut $20 million from its $50 million budget would avoid the wave of closings county Mayor Carlos Gimenez initially floated last summer in the midst of a similar funding crisis. Burning through the library’s cash reserves let the library avoid that scenario in the current budget. But without a tax increase or drastic spending cuts, the same $20 million gap will be waiting for the library once the 2015 budget year begins Oct. 1.

Gimenez said Wednesday he gave Santiago “marching orders” to come up with a spending-cut plan that kept all 49 branches open. He said he would not consider cutting branches in order to improve service at more popular locations. “We tried that before,’’ he said, referring to the backlash over his 2013 plan to preserve reserves by shutting down branches.

Santiago, the library’s director and a county department head, outlined two funding plans to fellow members of a mayoral task force assembled to study the system’s future. The second scenario maintains the current funding of $50 million, which would require reversing the library tax cut Gimenez ushered into effect during his first year as mayor in 2011. The property tax that funds the library, which amounts to about $17 for every $100,000 of assessed value, generates roughly $30 million a year.

With $50 million to spend again in 2015, the library would still institute cutbacks in order to free up dollars elsewhere. Both options would restore Sunday service to some of the largest libraries, but the bulk of the system’s 49 branches would maintain five- or six-day schedules under the $50 million option.

A draft report from the task force, which Gimenez chairs, recommends instituting the tax hike that would generate $50 million. Gimenez initially proposed an increase last year, then backed off amid criticism. He has warned imposing a tax hike in an election year could be an even larger challenge.

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