Residents in a recent online survey ranked libraries high on the priority list and have urged county commissioners to keep the doors open and current operations intact.
But do they like libraries so much they would be willing to pay to keep them open?
The idea of paying as much as $30 per library card came up at Tuesday’s county commission meeting during the citizens’ comment period. Faced with a budget crunch and the real possibility of reducing services, the idea has gained traction with some patrons.
“We are looking at alternatives,” said County Administrator Len Sossamon, who didn’t offer an opinion on the pay-per-card option.
If the county took 90,000 cardholders — the number of people currently estimated to possess active cards — and charge them $30 per card, that would bring in $2.7 million to fill the revenue gap, Sossamon said.
The idea is to keep the cards free to those 18 and younger.
The downside would be that Hernando County would no longer be eligible for the state aid to library grant funding if it charges for cards.
On the other hand, if you have two card users per family, unless you do it by household, you would have a husband and wife paying $60, and Sossamon said it would likely be cheaper just to include the fee in county taxes.
Commissioners are looking for options to fund libraries. They took off the table last month an idea to create a Multiple Service Taxing Unit.
The board voted 4-1 against it, saying it could lead to administrative red tape and would probably create more problems than it would solve.
The state aid to libraries grant program has been used to fund the majority of the library services the past few fiscal years. But that funding source is diminishing, and the majority of funding for fiscal year 2014 will need to be provided by the general fund or some other funding option.
Marie Monahan, member of the Hernando County Library Advisory Committee, said people “have taken for granted that libraries will always be here.”
“But I don’t think we can do that anymore,” she said. “And I think it’s imperative that all of us really take an active role in supporting the library.”
People of every age, ethnicity and socio-economic group use the libraries for educational and entertainment purposes and all must band together to support the operations, Monahan said.
Resident Shirley Miketinac said Hernando County libraries were started with a subscription basis. When the first library started in the 1920s, people paid three cents per book and also paid fines for late returns.
“Our libraries were always pay,” she said.
Miketinac said there is not enough money to go around and the grants are no longer there, so the idea of paying for libraries cards may make sense, she said.
Residents like and use the libraries and “paying a little bit for it for those who can. I still think it’s a great idea to do that.”
Resident Ivan Sislick of Spring Hill said he echoed Miketinac’s comments.
“I grew up using libraries and I find that they are the repository of all the knowledge that we’ve accumulated to date, so I heartily subscribe to keeping the system open,” he said.
Margaret Becker, checking out a book Friday morning at the West Hernando Staffordene T. Foggia branch library for her daughter’s history project, said she would pay a fee because she is financially able.
But she fears that for seniors and others on fixed incomes, it could pose a problem.
“Can they afford it?” she asked.
Faedra Waymore, who brought her children to storytime at the westside branch, said she understands the county’s plight but is not sure charging a fee for library card is the answer.
“I don’t know,” Waymore said. “I’d have to think about that.”
Board Chairman Dave Russell has said the board has the ability to fund the libraries based on its general fund budget and didn’t need to consider a taxing district to raise some $2 million-plus to continue current operations level.