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Monday October 20th 2014

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Libraries Spared

After nearly three hours of discussion this morning supporter of the West Florida Library System have reason to celebrate. Quietly.

“We are left cautiously optimistic,” Bette Hooten, president of the library system’s board of trustees, said after leaving the Escambia County Commission work session.

Hundreds of supporters showed up at the county commission meeting this morning sporting red shirts and save-the-library signs. They were there to protest the commissioner’s consideration of pulling the county’s portion of funding—$3.7 million— to the library system.

Escambia County Administrator Randy Oliver had suggested commissioners look at cutting the library funding as a way to make up a budget shortfall, caused in part by a new state law that mandates counties reimburse the state for Medicaid costs going back to 2001.

This morning’s discussion about library funding bloomed into a full blown budget workshop, with commissioners tossing various notions on the table. Should the millage rate be raised? How about a gas tax to fund mass transit? Or maybe the county can move funds from somewhere else into the general fund.

The issue of library funding soon took a backseat to the larger topic of how Escambia County will deal with longer term budget issues. Hours in, Hooten was still unsure if the libraries were safe.

“That’s why I tried to pen them down there at the end,” she said.

After confirming it with his fellow commissioners, Commission Chairman Wilson Robertson assured Hooten that the library system would not see a “massive cut.”

“I have to trust my government to know the right thing to do,” Hooten said outside the county complex. “That is their job to figure this out—they know what the people want.”

– check back later today for a full account of this morning’s meeting