MANATEE -- With a lack of bookstores and no libraries, Lakewood Ranch is an "intellectual desert," says Lakewood Ranch resident Jacqueline Borda.
"It's not being they don't have the population," she said during a recent Lakewood Ranch town hall meeting. "There is nothing for that population. You only drink and eat here. It's fine but there is more to life. I think they need a library."
Borda is not the first East Manatee resident to express her desire of a county library in the Lakewood Ranch area.
For several years, the county has been getting requests from residents in both Lakewood Ranch and Myakka City for a library, said Cheri Coryea, the county's neighborhood services department director.
While a library in East Manatee has been regularly requested for some time, it has had to compete against other projects included in the county's Capital Improvement Program as there is no other funding source, Coryea said.
But for the first time, Manatee County could levy a library impact fee, which could be used to build a new library east of Interstate 75. Impact fees are collected on newly constructed homes and are used to help pay for new schools, roads, parks, public safety, law enforcement, and, perhaps for the first time, libraries. The county commission is expected to make a final decision about whether to raise the impact fees and implement new fees at its meeting Thursday, Dec. 3.
The revenue generated from the fee could be used to expand the existing Braden River Library and build a new library in East Manatee.
"The impact fee program for me meets an ideal need because the growth is out east," Coryea said. "We may be able to now actually service those folks that are out there with the impact fees by creating this other facility."
With the projected growth in Manatee County, 16,000 square feet of library building space and 65,000 additional collection materials are needed to accommodate the growth over 10 years, according to the impact fee study conducted by TischlerBise, consultants hired by the county commission and the Manatee County School District. The county has 110,575-square-feet of existing library buildings.
The proposed library impact fees would range from $119 for a new home with 1,000 square feet or less of finished living space to $399 for a new home that has more than 2,201 square feet of finished living space. At these proposed rates, it would generate $5.155 million in projected revenue over a 10-year period, according to the study, which has the 10-year cost of library facilities, including buildings and collection materials, at $6.251 million.
At 15,000 square feet, the Braden River Library, 4915 53rd Ave. E., Bradenton, is the second busiest branch after the Central Library located in downtown Bradenton. Coryea added that the county, after the Central Library, has the most staff at the Braden River Library.
"It almost rivals our downtown branch," Coryea said. "It's busting out the seams. We like to do an expansion of that facility."
East Manatee resident Sina Caffrey was checking out books and movies with her children Tuesday afternoon at the Braden River Library. Caffrey, who goes to the library once a month, said she thinks the library meets all their needs at this point.
"We've really never had any issues," she said. "I feel like there could be more copies of books. I wish they would expand their hours especially with being closed on Mondays."
For Braden Woods resident Cheryl Griesbach, she goes to the Braden River Library once or twice a month as she loves "being surrounded by books."
"Being surrounded by books makes me feel safe and peaceful both at the same time," she said. "It's a lovely space. I think the library space is adequate. ... We have so many libraries in Manatee County and Sarasota County. We are really lucky."
Despite a three-month closure of the Central Library for renovations, the county saw the highest ever circulation of materials this last year, according to Ava Ehde, the county's library services manager.
The county public library system saw a 3.54 percent increase in materials used in fiscal year 2014-15 over the previous year. While the number of patrons were down 11.25 percent in fiscal year 2014-15 compared to the previous year, Ehde said it is largely due to the fact that the county's largest branch, Central Library at 51,700-square-feet, was closed for part of the year.
The Friends of the Braden River Library, which is a group of patrons who support the growth and development of library services in the community, have been as "begging and begging for an expansion," Coryea said.
"They see the use of the library being overwhelming there," she said.
While the specific location for a new library in East Manatee has not been selected, Coryea said the county would work with Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, the developer of Lakewood Ranch, to "determine where is all the growth going to be and try to fit in the most logical place."
Coryea added that they would do a focus group with the community.
"We would pull all different people together and ask 'What do you want? What do you need?,'" she said.
While Commissioner Vanessa Baugh, who represents Lakewood Ranch and Myakka City, said she couldn't say whether a library impact fee was the way to go, she acknowledged the need for a library in East Manatee.
"I have had numerous people contact me over the last three years about the necessity of a library in our area," Baugh said. "It is something that has been mentioned by the county administrator on numerous occasions. It is something that we need to look at, but how we will pay for that is still up in the air."
Manatee County Commission considers raising impact fees
At the Dec. 3 meeting, the Manatee County Commission is set to take action on the recommendations from the TischlerBise impact fee study. Should the commission elect to raise impact fees to the amounts recommended by the study, Manatee County could quickly go from one of the counties on the Gulf Coast with the lowest fees to a county with some of the highest. If adopted, the new fee schedule would become effective April 1.
The school board has also passed a resolution calling for the reinstating of school impact fees, but since the school board went off the county timeline, the resolution will come before the commission for approval at a later date.
Currently, for a new single-family, detached 2,000-square-foot, three-bedroom home, the maximum fee Manatee County levies is $11,846, which places the county on the lower end of the spectrum. But if the county approves the increase recommended by the consultant, which includes the new fees such as the library one, Manatee County could become one of the counties with the highest fee amount, at a maximum of $22,167, which would include school impact fees.
"In general, they are going up a substantial amount," Deputy County Administrator Dan Schlandt told commissioners during a Nov. 10 work session.
But the substantial proposed increase has given some commissioners and planning commissioners pause during recent meetings. The planning commission, an advisory board to the county commission, unanimously voted that the proposed impact fee ordinance was consistent with the county's Comprehensive Plan.
While the county commission will decide on whether to adopt the impact fees at the full amount recommended in the study at the Dec. 3 meeting, County Administrator Ed Hunzeker has recommended that commissioners not raise the impact fees at this time to the full amount.
At the Nov. 12 meeting, Planning Commissioner Matthew Bower said he thinks an incremental increase should be considered.
"I personally believe a ladder approach over a three-year period," Bower said.
If the commission adopts at 90 percent of the study amount, which would be equal to a 29 percent increase over current rates, it would generate an additional $4.2 million a year. Adopting it at the full recommendation would generate an additional $6.2 million per year. At the rates collected today, impact fees generate $14.5 million a year, according to Hunzeker.
Library evolves, provides many services
Over the years, the role of a library in a community has evolved.
Libraries are a gathering place where people can have access to professional librarians, who offer high quality programs, Coryea said, adding that job fairs and other events now also take place in libraries.
"People are drawn to the library," she said. "Now we know it has a wider reach of importance."
Baugh echoed this sentiment.
"The libraries have kept up with the time," Baugh said. "They are necessary. They are very well needed. They are something we definitely have a need for."
Pete Logan, president of Medallion Home, questioned the necessity of a library impact fee during the Nov. 12 planning commission meeting.
"Why are we adding the library impact fee tax at all?," Logan said. "Don't we live in a society where a very large cross section of our population has access to primary sources via our smart phones, tablets and Kindles? ... This seems as though we could focus some of those resources elsewhere."
But Ehde said the roles of librarians are "evolving just like the formats available to users."
"Librarians teach technology, support computer users, help job seekers with resumes and job applications, help prepare children for school as readers, support family literacy, purchase resources from print to electronic at the appropriate level and language, coordinate programs to keep our communities informed, support lifelong learning, implement online technologies to help our virtual users and facilitate community meetings and tutoring sessions," Ehde said in an email.
Ehde added that the libraries are community centers, which is demonstrated through events such as ManaCon, Reading with the Rays, Recycled Dreams Fashion Show, Literacy Expo, Small Business Expo and the Hiring Fair.
"These events provide much needed family fun, literacy, entertainment or job support," she said. "Our team has the education and the experience to best support the myriad of community needs."
Claire Aronson, Manatee County reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024. Follow her on Twitter@Claire_Aronson.