Education Escambia County News Pensacola Politics

Hammering Out the Libraries

November 8, 2012

The West Florida Public Library system got a Band-Aid yesterday for fiscal year 2013. Now the city of Pensacola and Escambia County must figure out a long term funding solution for the system.

“We still have a lot of homework to do on it,” City Administrator Bill Reynolds told the Pensacola City Council during yesterday’s special Committee of the Whole meeting.

The library system is jointly funded by the city and the county. Following the Escambia County Commission’s decision to decrease its funding contribution, the city—which manages the system—decided to cut hours and other expenditures, which led the county to further reduce funding so that it could redirect the money to restore hours at county branches. After some tense communique between Reynolds and former county administrator Randy Oliver, the city and county are now working together to find an arrangement that suits both entities.

Last week, the city was able to find $355,000 in its budget to put towards the library system this year, which will get the libraries back up to 87 percent of their normal operation. Reynolds and Mayor Ashton Hayward also met with incoming county commission chairman Gene Valentino this week, with both parties deciding to pursue an MSTU—a dedicated tax to fund the library system.

“There seems to be a lot of agreement that this was a workable solution,” Reynolds said. “This buys us a year—a year in which we can look at the the long term solution.”

Because a county MSTU would not apply within city limits, Reynolds requested that the city council look at the issue. The council unanimously decided to slate a discussion for its Nov. 13 COW meeting.

Reynolds also told council that perhaps Escambia County—“the organization that has the most skin in the game, if you will”—might be the appropriate entity to oversee the library system. He also said that officials should look at an arrangement that places managerial responsibility with the library system’s board of trustees.

Also during yesterday’s COW meeting, the council decided to continue moving forward with plans to relocate the westside library—currently located in a Cervantes Street strip mall—to the new community center at Legion Field. Some residents have expressed concerns about the new facility’s location, contending that neighborhood children could not safely walk to the new library.

Describing the process of building the community center as one that “began many, many moons ago,” Reynolds implored council not to ditch the library’s inclusion. The council is slated to soon approve construction of the facility.

“You can put the brakes on this,” Reynolds told them, “at a significant cost to this organization.”

Councilman Larry B. Johnson wondered if the city could construct the community center as currently designed, without relocating the library to the building.

“Where does that leave us?” Johnson asked.

“Well, that leaves you with a large hole in your building,” Reynolds said.

Councilwoman Sherri Myers, who originally voted against relocating the westside library, said that she would like to see the citizens’ safety concerns addressed. She suggested installing a traffic signal on Cervantes, along with improving sidewalks en route to the new library. Reynolds referred to those concerns as “certainly something staff can take a look at.”

While they stressed to citizens at yesterday’s meeting that they sympathized with their concerns, council members decided to continue with the relocation plans.

“This train has left the station,” Johnson said. “We’re talking about breaking ground in two months.”

Some westside residents present at the meeting told council that they had voiced concerns throughout the planning process to no avail. Others said the city should have made more effort to inform and include residents that will be impacted by the relocation.

“The train had left, but we didn’t know anything about it,” Rev. Jerry Hunter told the council.

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