Grassroots effort underway to save Miami-Dade libraries

There is an all-out campaign to keep Miami-Dade libraries funded at a level that will keep them open and staffed, and increase the materials acquisition budget to a realistic level.

Save Our Libraries

A mom reads to her children at a Miami-Dade library.

The effort is being led by the Coalition to Save Our Libraries. The group is holding rallies and doing all it can to convince county commissioners to increase the millage rate of the library’s special taxing district to a level that will allow for a $64 million budget. The coalition plans to pack the county commission chambers on July 15 to show that there is strong support for the library system in Miami-Dade.

The coalition has to convince a majority of the county commission members to increase the millage rate for the special taxing district instead of following County Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s proposed budget, which keeps the rate the same as this year’s.

In April, Gimenez proposed a $30 million budget, down $20 million from the current budget of $50 million, which was bolstered by reserves. Those reserves will be used up by fall. He recently unveiled a proposal for a $45 million budget that would cut staff by 90 positions.

Library supporters want to avoid any more devastating cuts. Because of what happened last year — when Gimenez’s budget called for closing 22 libraries and slashing staff — the members of the Coalition to Save Our Libraries have remained active throughout the year and have stepped up the campaign for a $64 million library system budget.

Pinecrest Mayor Cindy Lerner is one of the founding members of the coalition.

“I’ve been involved since last summer since the day Mayor Gimenez changed his mind and was not going to ask for a millage increase,” Lerner said. “Since that day, I’ve been on a mission to convince them they have to restore the funding.”

Lerner said that she volunteered to participate in some of the work groups on the blue ribbon task force Gimenez announced in November 2013. The task force was charged with making recommendations for libraries.

“The recommendation did not have a dollar figure, but it was to restore the funding to the point where they could actually enhance services,” Lerner said.

But there is concern that although Gimenez attended a series of town hall meetings on the library filled with passionate, grassroots patrons who urged fully funding the libraries, those entreaties fell on deaf ears.

While the library funding problem seemed to burst into the limelight last year, it was a problem years in the making. Lerner said the millage rate for the library system’s special taxing district had been raised in the early 2000s to bring up the reserves. When the reserves were built up, the millage rate returned to lower rate. But then, starting in 2009, the county began cutting the millage rate further.

“They slashed it almost by half each year,” Lerner said.

In fact the budget fell dramatically from an annual level of $60-$70 million to $23 million, she said.

“That is all the millage will fund. For the last two years they drew from the reserves,” Lerner said.

“They had to fill in the gap to just tread water. In addition to treading water, they have reduced library staff from somewhere between a third and a half. They have cut back to a miniscule levels fund for materials, upgrades.”

Staffing has gone down to 445 positions compared to 636 in 2009-10.

“We got put on a 50 percent diet,” said Ellen Book of Community Advocates for Libraries in Miami (CALM). “That is what our new normal is supposed to be — 50 percent of what we needed. Our current budget lends itself to massive layoffs. Our director got up and told the country commission that all we would be able to do is open and close the door.”

The funding for purchasing materials was reduced from $8 million annually to $l million a year. To compare, Broward’s materials budget is $5.5 million.

Lerner has rallied the Miami-Dade League of Cities to advocate for the libraries by passing resolutions. She also has asked the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce to weigh in.

Book said that if the library is funded at $30 million instead of the $64 million Save Our Libraries is advocating, hours will have to be reduced by 36 percent, which would cause 22 libraries to go down to eight hours of service only four days a week and another 19 go down to only four hours of service four days a week.

Commissioner Xavier Suarez has come out in favor of the $64 million budget.

For more information, go to the Coalition To Save Our Libraries on Facebook at <>.

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