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Thursday August 28th 2014

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Library Letters in ‘Chinatown’

The library system was a topic of discussion last time the Escambia County Commission met, and chances are it will be tomorrow as well. While it’s not on the commission’s Committee of the Whole agenda, enough has transpired over the past week to fuel a conversation.

During its Oct. 4 meeting, the commission discussed their discontent with the city of Pensacola’s decision to reduce hours for the West Florida Public Library System—specifically for county branches—which the city manages. City officials reduced the hours following the county’s decision to reduce its funding contribution by $165,000 for FY2013.

Following the commission meeting, County Administrator Randy Oliver wrote the city to inform officials that if the hours remained reduced, the county would need to further reduce its funding commitment in order to redirect the funds to pay the staff needed for non-reduced hours at county branches.

This week, City Administrator Bill Reynolds returned the correspondence. He began the letter cordially enough—marking through ‘Mr. Oliver’ with a blue pen to write in the more informal ‘Randy’—but then proceeded to rip the county for years of underfunding and and defended the city’s decision to cut hours.

“I appreciate the challenging budget issues that the county has overcome in the past several months including the Medicaid scare, and applaud the county for its efforts outlined in your October 5th letter, but it is not fair to expect that city taxpayers should continually subsidize county users of the system,” Reynolds wrote. “What I find even more troubling is the attempt by some to make this a ‘city issue’ based upon the efforts we have had to implement to ensure we remain within the budget.”

Following the commission’s discussion about the library system last week, West Florida Libraries Board of Trustees President Betty Hooton said that she thought the county should be able to find the $165,000 it cut from its library funding somewhere within the budget or in reserves—“The money is there somewhere for crying out loud, I’m not stupid.”—and chalked the cut up to politics.

“You know the movie Chinatown?” Hooton asked. “At the end they say ‘it’s just Chinatown.’ That’s how it is here—it’s just politics.”