Budget cuts force county to scrap plans for 4 new libraries
By Wayne Tompkins
The Miami-Dade Library System is preparing for $21.5 million in budget cuts resulting from state property tax changes but will not lay off employees or reduce its hours, assistant director William Urbizu said this week.
However, the system will not proceed on construction of four new libraries — in Doral, Country Walk, Hialeah Garden and Killian — and will reduce its budget for books and materials by about $2 million.
"We're trying not to affect direct services to the patrons, but that's almost an impossibility," Mr. Urbizu said.
Mayor Carlos Alvarez is proposing $327 million in reductions in the county's 2007-08 budget to offset revenue reductions from state property tax relief measures.
The Miami-Dade County Commission, which must decide on the mayor's recommendations, will hold two hearings — on Thursday, Sept. 6, and Thursday, Sept. 20. Both will begin at 5:01 p.m. in the Government Center commission chambers.
Mr. Urbizu said that while there is money to construct the four new libraries, there would be no money to maintain them once they opened their doors.
Six libraries already under construction will proceed as planned, he said.
"We have a great deal of hope" that some funding will be restored, Mr. Urbizu said, "though we realize that everyone across the county has to take cuts and we're not an exception."
Arts and cultural groups, for example, are in a similar fight to try to restore proposed $3.5 million in cuts, a small amount in comparison to the library system but nonetheless crippling to several grants programs.
Mr. Urbizu said he took hope in a resolution that Commissioner Katy Sorenson introduced last month that would have restored about $5.3 million of the library system's funding. The measure failed, but many commissioners left the door open to restore some funding if the money can be found.
"I think our taxpayers and voters would forgive us" if some library funding was restored, Ms. Sorenson said, noting her proposal would cost the owner of a $250,000 home only about $5 a year. "People really rely on the libraries in this county."
Other commissioners affirmed the importance of libraries as de-facto day-care centers and as the only source of Internet access and publications for many residents.
"Libraries to me are temples of knowledge, cathedrals of education," Commissioner Javier Souto said. "Nothing to me is more sacred, other than a church, than a library. They serve everyone, rich and poor."