Group wants new way to fund libraries

Save Our Libraries seeks 26K signatures amid budget cuts

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - For years, the Jacksonville Public Library System has suffered from belt-tightening and budget cuts.

This summer, there are considerations to trim $4 million from the library's budget, possibly eliminate 71 full-time positions, and reduce hours at local branches.

The group Save Our Libraries is trying to do something different to protect the library system for years to come, and their first step is asking for signatures on a petition that could one day affect the way residents' tax dollars are spent.

The library volunteers collected a couple of signatures Wednesday afternoon, on their way, they say, to 26,000. That's how many signatures they need to qualify for a referendum.

The group wants to create a separate library tax district. Under the proposal, the libraries in Jacksonville would still be publicly funded by tax dollars, but the money would be handled by a separate governing board made up of city and school leaders.

Organizers say it would mean the library wouldn't have to compete for dollars with police and firefighters.

"I mean, here's the library director, and on the one side of her is five stars on his shoulder and a gun -- that's the sheriff -- and over here is a guy who comes and puts your house out if it catches on fire, puts the fire out," said Harry Reagan, of Friends of the Library. "It's hard to compete with public safety."

Petition organizer and attorney Bill Brinton said libraries in Orange and Alachua counties have operated under independent tax districts and have been successful. Brinton said this is not a tax hike, and he said if the straw poll is adopted, the total millage cap for property owners will not go up.

"You're switching out what you're doing under the big city government of inefficiency to something that is much more efficient, and you might actually achieve savings over the long term by having a more efficient operation," Brinton said.

The organizers behind this petition say the sad part is things can't happen fast enough. The soonest they can get something put on the ballot and put to the votes is November 2014.

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