Privatization is NOT the answer
Please take a moment to review
The Marion County Public Library System has been directed to reduce their proposed 2015-2016 budget by another $500,000 from $6.7 million to $6.2 million. During the past 6 years the library budget has been cut by $3.5 million.
This proposed budget will be presented to the BCC during the budget hearings in July. If accepted by the BCC, the library system will once again be forced to cut services and staff. The proposed budget cuts include:
1. Between now and Sept. 10, meet with, call or email your Board of County Commissioners and tell them how important the library is to you and our community. If you call, and the Commissioners are unavailable, please leave your name and number with their assistant, Nadja, and ask her to relay the message that you are a voter who supports funding the library NOT reducing the library budget.
2. Attend the BCC public hearings on the budget on Sept. 10 and Sept 24 at 7:00 p.m.
“Without libraries what have we? We have no past and no future.”
— Ray Bradbury
“Cutting libraries during a recession is like cutting hospitals during a plague.”
— Eleanor Crumblehulme
Somehow this man believes that librarians do "nothing". Anyone who has attended one of the computer classes, programs, tech help sessions, book clubs, YALLA meetings, Manga Club activities, movie sessions, etc.
Do you think that your public librarians do nothing? This type of statement only shows how much this company really knows about a public library and what it does. Beside all of the programs and the events, there are a host of skilled caring people who do everything from collection development to circulation and care of the books and library equipment.
Is this really the type of for-profit company you want using YOUR tax dollars to determine what will and will not be a part of your library in the future?
Marion County is on the verge of writing another chapter in the ongoing story of its public library system. It’s a narrative has been going on since the mid-1990s, loaded with policy and budget challenges — bridging one century and two decades — with a plot that is the stuff of a Stephen King novel.
Money is sometimes at the root of a cliffhanger, and this story is no exception. Over the past six years, the library has endured a steady drain of operating capital — $3.5 million — surviving because of a dedicated staff and hundreds of volunteers, who partner to accommodate fiscal restraints, set by a fundamentally conservative County Commission. The library’s operating budget has been steadily whittled down since 2009, and now, the commissioners want to slice another $500,000 from the 2015-16 budget. Here’s the reality, in human terms, if that happens.
■ Eight positions cut, 11 positions reduced.
■ Bookmobile services cut, if not eliminated.
■ New book, e-book and materials purchases cut by $101,039.
■ Computers, printers and scanners will not be upgraded, repaired or replaced.
■ Security services at the main headquarters in Ocala, eliminated.
■ Agency collection of unpaid library fines cancelled. (Return on investment $4.42 for every $1 on collections.)
■ Reduced hours of operation at the main Ocala library, Belleview, Dunnellon, Forest, Freedom and Marion Oaks libraries.
■ Headquarters library will be closed on Sundays.
The commission has the authority to eliminate positions, limit or reduce salaries and benefits of employees, and make deep cuts to the department budgets under its jurisdiction. Taxpayers do not have the ability to cut or limit the generous state-mandated compensation and benefits the commissioners receive. But taxpayers do have a voice — and a vote.
The library is not the only county government agency that has been suffering because of personnel and funding cutbacks. Fire, EMT services and public safety also are stretched to the breaking point. In the last year, outstanding experienced county administrators, key department heads, emergency and public safety personnel all have sought employment elsewhere. This sad state of affairs is due, in part, to elected officials choosing not to develop a revenue stream to support the critical and educational services most residents want and need.
The challenge of the 21st century is providing all basic services and keeping up with the technology requirements, driven by Marion County’s mushrooming population and the demand for those services. The county’s growth is well-established. The county’s population was 70,085 in 1970 and 330,000 by 2010 — a 372 percent increase — with new census figures for 2014 at 339,167. Those numbers will certainly rise significantly in the next five years.
Political mantras and obsessive, oppressive financial restraint is no longer logical, practical or rational, and certainly not an answer — or a solution — to adequately funding government services.
The epilogue: Growth does not pay for itself.
Attention, county commissioners:
It is hard to believe any of you have a library card or have ever visited the public library in your district.
Maybe it is time you did. Visit one or two libraries unannounced, without any press; otherwise, you will be inundated by dedicated friends of these public libraries booing or shouting you down, insisting you not make any changes to this institution that is thriving as it is.
If you had visited any library you would never agree to cut their budget or consent to the radical decision of privatizing it. Instead, you would be proud of the dedicated individuals employed by the public libraries who serve their communities and work hard to educate them and provide them with stimulating programs, and who accommodate their literary and educational needs.
You would be amazed at how many people depend on the library and its services, especially in these difficult financial times, when most cannot afford magazines, let alone the luxury of books or computers.
Our libraries attract people of all ages of all cultures. These are the people you were voted to represent.
And as Cicero said, “The people’s good is the highest law.”
If you aren’t one of the thousands of Marion County residents who visit one of our public libraries regularly, well, let me tell, they’re pretty nice. More than just repositories for books, they have movies and magazines and are technology centers. They house Marion County’s historical archives and host scores of community meetings and events. And there is staff to help you in a heartbeat.
On top of all that, they’re all relatively new, having been built since the turn of the century.
They are, without argument, real community assets, a point of pride — especially since Marion County once had absolutely the worst public library system in Florida.
So now comes the Marion County Commission looking for a way to pay our firefighters and paramedics more. Rather than ask the people to pay a little more to be assured top-notch fire-rescue services — something most would have no qualms about doing — our commissioners think it might be a good idea to privatize our public libraries to save money. Oh sure, a privatized public library is an oxymoron, but so apparently is political leadership.
Anyway, with budget season upon us, the commissioners have decided the best way to balance the budget is to cut funding for libraries, parks and animal services, quality of life services that all are used by large numbers of the citizenry. The libraries, for instance, had more than 826,000 visits last year alone.
The commissioners are talking to an outfit that has found it profitable to take over public libraries. Oh, they won’t take on the maintenance and repairs, or buy new computers or reach out to the community to see what more the libraries can do. They just want to get their hand in the public till for private profit.
And according to Nancy Young of Friends of the Library, who has met with the commissioners about the privatization issue, the majority of the commissioners are “very interested” in how Library Systems and Services Inc., or LSSI, can cut the county budget.
Of course, rest assured, if LSSI does take over the libraries, which last year had a $6 million budget, they will find their profit by cutting people and services and, most likely, assessing new fees and charges.
True to form, the commissioners have had all their discussions about the public policy sea change in secret, meeting individually with the LSSI folks.
I talked to a reader who is infuriated about another the commission considering putting this community asset up for bid, and he said, “They know the cost of everything but the value of nothing.” Touche!
It’s just a guess, but I suspect none of the five commissioners are what you’d call regular library patrons. But maybe, just maybe, they should stop by one or two and see what these public facilities mean to those who use them. Then maybe they could hold a public discussion about their privatization fervor.
Privatizing our public libraries is a sea change in public policy. It needs to be discussed in public. Stop the secrecy, commissioners. They are our libraries, not yours.
This proposal is greater than the past reductions — this time breaking the camel’s back and obviously making our libraries the usual stepchildren in setting the county budget.
To define a library as only a repository of books is oblivious in this modern day. It has evolved as a public institution of expanded learning in terms of materials, machines, a flurry of activities and a plethora of enrichments.
To set a factual perspective, our county libraries are no longer places just to borrow books and provide research materials, but now assume the character and role of community centers — serving an expanded public base. Thus, the swath of outreach has been broadened to afford a whole host of events, resources and activities — namely, computer banks, feature films, civic presentations, lectures and sundry others to attract, enhance and increase attendance as much as fourfold from our wider community.
And also, in the wider scope, our libraries are a major criterion in assessing the quality of life in our county.
Our Dunnellon library maximizes these new dimensions, and visitors have responded dramatically in recent years. Thus, curtailments, such as the reduction of personnel and hours of service, all serve to egregiously affect the library/community center experience.
Therefore, I demand the commissioners rethink these cuts. Reduced library funding is a critical matter. This writer has surveyed local sentiments, and the overwhelming response is that the proposed cuts may likely become a ballot-box issue.
As a concerned citizen of Marion County, I am appalled at your proposal to cut the county’s library system budget by $500,000.
Our public libraries are a resource for our community far beyond the availability of books for all of us to enjoy. These facilities provide programs for our young students, films and lectures on topics crucial to our enjoyment of where we live and as technology centers for those without access to computers or the Internet in their own homes.
Your proposal to cut a half million dollars from the library system budget is shortsighted at best. Such cuts would barely put a Band-Aid on the continuing disgrace of our losing so many underpaid first responders to other counties that value their expertise and prove it to them by paying them a living wage.
Much as it makes you all cringe at the mere mention of it, to operate a county as vast as Marion is, revenue must be generated and as far as we know, the only way for a government entity to increase revenue is to add a tax burden to its residents. Be it a sales tax, property tax, gasoline tax or any other tax, all residents of the county must share the burden of providing ALL residents with the services required to maintain a happy and healthy lifestyle.
With the vast number of residents living in Marion County, surely a penny here or a penny there would generate far more revenue than the money the commission is proposing to steal from our library system.
I encourage you to take a deep breath and take the necessary steps to make Marion County viable for those living here. Sure, you hate the concept of a tax increase of any kind. But on the other hand, WE would hate to have to wait for first responders to arrive to put out the fire engulfing our home or to transport an accident victim to the hospital or to see the elimination or reduction of the many other county provided services that impact out lives.
Do what is right and necessary! As the saying goes, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. We believe that all right-thinking residents of our county would gladly share in the financial burden of maintaining the vital services which we depend on our county to provide.
THE FRIENDS OF THE
OCALA PUBLIC LIBRARY
...is a group of community members and
library staff who support the Library.
Photo by Donald & Shirley Sjolund
...enriches the intellectual and cultural environment of the Marion County Public Library by promoting excellence in library programs and services and sponsoring special events.
Photo by Steve Floethe
...and acts as an advocacy organization by elevating public awareness of and raising funds for the Library
Thanks to funding from Friends of the Library,
Marion County Library now has eBooks!
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