To slash or not to slash, that is the question – whether it is better to let the library services of Miami-Dade County (including Pinecrest’s) dwindle and fade away, or to challenge the county commission and thereby find the funds to maintain the system.
As it stands, funding for the county library system will drop to $30 million this year, down from the $64 million that library advocates say is required. The budget was actually already cut to $30 million two years ago, but has been kept at $50 million a year using dollars remaining from a capital fund set aside a decade ago to build new branches. That money is now gone.
“This will be a drastic cut, and completely annihilates everything that has been put together,” says Ellen Book, co-founder and chair of Community Advocates for Libraries in Miami (CALM). “A great majority of librarians will be laid off, with some being hired back at part time.”
Book, who is also a senior librarian in the Pinecrest branch, notes that library hours in Pinecrest have already been cut from eight and a half hours six days a week, to eight hours a day five days a week. The new cuts, if applied to Pinecrest, could reduce library hours to four hours a day, four days a week.
“We have to do everything we can to stop this,” Pinecrest Mayor Cindy Lerner told members of the Pinecrest Business Association at their monthly luncheon in April. “Libraries are the cornerstone of civilization.”
Whereas online research and e-books have challenged the role of printed books in recent years, Book and others note that library services are still needed for people of limited income (such as the elderly) and actually do provide access to Google, legal forms, language programs and – for those who still read offline – books for people of all ages.
The issue is where to find the money. Currently, county homeowners pay $17 each year per $100,000 of property value for library services. For what libraries need, another $18 will have to be assessed. That would mean the owner of a $500,000 home would have to pay about $29 a month instead of the current $14 a month.
While county commissioners can vote to invoke this change (favored by Pinecrest area Commissioner Xavier Suarez), Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez is so concerned with voter reaction to any sort of tax increase that he has suggested staging a countywide referendum on the matter this summer.