Let the library funding wars begin.
At 9:30 this morning, the Miami-Dade County Finance Committee will meet for a first discussion on budgets for the upcoming fiscal year -- chief among them the county's beleaguered library system, which is facing a further $20 million cut without new taxes. Activists and library supporters are urging like-minded residents to make noise at the hearing.
Today's meeting marks the first time the public -- led by groups such as the Coalition to Save Our Libraries -- is able to voice its concerns directly to the county.
"This is where the commissioners get a first taste of what the community support is like for the libraries," Rebecca Wakefield, a library activist (and former New Times staff writer), tells Riptide. Wakefield, a single mom who counts on the library system as an important resource, expects at least 30 or 40 people to turn out to the meeting in the county commission chambers to advocate for increased funding.
To really get back up to speed, she says, the library system would need to see its budget raised from its current $50 million to at least $64 million -- or just roughly $20 a year in increased millage taxes for county property owners.
Today's meeting is the first of many before a county budget is eventually set in July. If no new funding is appropriated, the already bare-bones library system would likely drastically reduce hours at many branches. Mayor Carlos Gimenez has said he won't back new taxes without a public referendum on the issue; his worst-case scenario proposal for the libraries calls for 56 percent of full-time staff getting laid off and hours cut by 35 percent.
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The cuts would be a glaring contradiction, Wakefield says, for county politicians who are loathe to raise taxes but always eager to portray themselves as library supporters -- often with portraits strategically placed inside county library branches.
"I don't want to see a picture of the mayor holding a book in my library if the library is open only a handful of hours and I can't get in there," she says. "That to me would be a slap in the face."