THE FLORIDA TIMES-UNION ENDORSEMENT: VOTE YES FOR QUALITY PUBLIC LIBRARIES
Voters in Duval County have an unusual choice on the Aug. 26 ballot. They will be asked it they want to have a future vote on setting up an independent library district.
This straw ballot was proposed following a study by Jacksonville Community Council Inc.
A citizens group of library supporters racked up more than 30,000 signatures on a petition to put this on the ballot.
The leaders of the petition drive said that support was enthusiastic and widespread from the voters on the street.
After all, libraries probably are the most popular public service. The library system reaches people more than 20 million times a year.
Libraries are joyful places where we can get away, relax, get informed, apply for a job, listen to music or go to meetings. The options are endless.
“A library is no longer just a place; it’s a cultural destination in itself, a venue for weddings and special events, art exhibits and performances and a neighborhood gathering spot,” the library system reported.
Yet in recent years, hours have been slashed and material budgets cut. Kevin Hyde was City Council president when the Main Library was opened.
“Along with Mayor John Peyton, I was one who cut the ribbon on our new Main Library,” Hyde said. “We built a fabulous physical infrastructure for our library system. But the fact is that since 2005, we have failed to fund it adequately.”
Usage has dropped to new lows since the Better Jacksonville Plan added libraries and renovated others.
Since 2005, here’s what has happened:
- The library budget has been cut by 41 percent.
- Funding for library materials was cut by 45 percent.
- Full-time staffing levels have been reduced by 35 percent.
These cuts began before the recession and have continued through two mayors and various City Councils.
Massive cuts happened last year when the library budget was slashed by $3.5 million, staff was cut by 70 positions and hours were cut by 22 percent, resulting in most libraries being closed on Mondays.
CUTS MEAN LESS SERVICE
Since those cuts were made, usage of the library services has dropped as well. There are fewer visitors, less circulation, less computer use and fewer bookings.
Even hours were slashed for the showplace Main Library. Some days it only opens in the late morning.
And the library board found itself powerless to set predictable budgets, build savings for maintenance and new construction.
It’s not intentional, but this gradual slashing of the library system is slowly destroying its quality. Clearly, there is something wrong with the system.
As Library Director Barbara Gubbin told a special City Council committee on consolidation, “Compare the political difficulty of closing an inefficient library to the political ease of cutting the materials budget, which has been such an easy perennial target that it is now barely more than half what it was in 2005.”
Libraries with independent governing boards like those in Alachua and Orange counties are able to anticipate recessions, put projects on hold, build savings and mitigate the impact of the cuts that were sure to come.
In short, they are able to manage their budgets.
BINDING VOTE LATER
Exactly what an independent library board would look like is down the road, but there are some general principles that have been espoused by library supporters.
They have talked about a reliable source of funding within the current city budget, a carve-out. It is not automatically an increase in taxes.
The library already receives about $33 million in funding. The proposal would call for a possible increase to 1 mill, or $46 million. But that would not be guaranteed.
A board made up of elected officials would make that call unlike independent authorities made up of citizens.
Funding really is not the issue here, management is.
Library officials need to be able to plan, to save, to be more entrepreneurial. The system is currently limited in most cases from raising money on its own and keeping the revenue.
For instance, the library system has sought to provide customers the chance to pay bills online since 2006 but was helpless to act without action by the general government.
Why give the library special status in the city budget? Because it is probably the most popular item in the budget. Voters should have a chance to sound off for real.
Vote for the straw ballot and a quality library system.
"Our public libraries unite us. From every walk of life and at every stage of life, we all NEED education that feeds the mind, and we all YEARN for entertainment that feeds the imagination. That's why libraries are too important to leave to politics!"
- Phyllis McCully Tousey
International Epidemiology Institute
Former Chair, Jacksonville Board of Library Trustees
"To me, libraries are magical places, forming a pillar for development of human society. From the great library in Alexandria to the present, they have provided humanity with broad sources of information, enjoyment and education. The Internet is also an important modern resource, which to me compliments, not replaces, brick and mortar facilities. For libraries are gathering places for learning, community development and gateways to incredible resources for enlightenment."
- John R. Hall, PhD
"I wholeheartedly endorse and support the Save Jax Libraries initiative. Libraries provide a precious gift; they enlarge our world, they give life to our dreams, and they dispense endless knowledge. Please join me in voting "yes" on August 26th."
- Buddy Schulz
"My husband and I attribute our daughters' (ages 11, 12 and 14) love of reading and success in school to our family's use of libraries.
My parents similarly encouraged my brother and me to visit our local library weekly. As a result, we are avid readers and had the opportunity to attend Harvard University. Jacksonville's continued growth and vibrancy depends on its libraries remaining accessible. Please vote YES to support libraries for our children's children!"
- Andrea Mail, Concerned Parent & Community Advocate from Mandarin
What does voting "Yes" for the Libraries Straw Ballot Referendum on August 26th mean?
It means that you are simply requesting that our Florida Legislature place the proposal for an independent library district on a future ballot for the voters to make a final decision to establish the district or not, similar to ballot measures passed by voters in Orange and Alachua Counties.
Why is an independent library district needed?
Unfortunately, our Public Libraries have suffered from budget cuts year after year, with a budget reduction of over 41% since 2005. Our public libraries provide a higher quality of life through continuous educational and multi-community uses, from computer resources for students to educational activities for our children. Creating an independent library district is the best solution to preserve our libraries for future generations.
What would an independent library district do?
An independent library district would provide stable funding and long-term planning for Jacksonville Public Libraries' maintenance and capital and put important library district decisions in the hands of people who are truly knowledgeable and committed to our libraries. A governing board made up of local elected officials to guarantee accountability for our citizens would oversee the independent library district.
Would taxes be raised if I vote for the straw ballot referendum?
No. The straw ballot only authorizes a later binding referendum to be held. The later binding referendum would also not raise taxes. Instead, it would guarantee allocation of up to one mil of our property taxes to go to our libraries. This would enable long term planning and stabilize funding for our libraries.
What is Happening?
Tuesday, January 21, 2014 - First Event
When: 2:00 p.m.
Where: Supervisor of Elections Office, 105 East Monroe Street.
Event: Validation of the 25,931st straw ballot petition for the independent library district. Significance: The validation will lead to the first straw ballot in Jacksonville history. Straw Ballot will occur on Tuesday, August 26, 2014. This is the culmination of a petition drive that has gathered well over 25,000 signatures from registered voters. Attendees: Library supporters and petition circulators. PLEASE COME AND JOIN US FOR THIS HISTORIC MOMENT. Straw Ballot requests Florida Legislature to afford Duval County voters the same opportunity that was previously accorded to the voters of Alachua County and Orange County to have a choice to establish an independent library district through voter referendum. Library effort was a JCCI Study Recommendation released in June 2012.
Tuesday, January 21, 2014 - Second Event.
When: 4:00 p.m.-6:00 p.m.
Where: Conference Room area at the Main Public Library, enter from Main Street entrance (rear of library)
Event: Celebration by petition supporters for reaching milestone and concluding petition drive. Open to All Well Wishers. COME CELEBRATE. Note: Light refreshments will be provided. Note: Plan to arrive before 5 p.m. There will be recognitions and announcements promptly at 5 p.m.
Wednesday, January 22, 2014 - One Event.
When: 9:00 a.m. (begins).
Where: City Hall, 4th Floor, Conference Room A.
Event: Consolidation Task Force Subcommittee will discuss independent districts, including the independent library tax district proposal (different destination for ad valorem revenue that now goes into the "general fund", and modeled after other independent districts approved by voters in large counties). COME LISTEN.
Thursday, January 23, 2014 - One Event.
When: 1:00 p.m.-5:00 p.m.
Where: City Hall, City Council Chambers
Event: Duval County Delegation Meeting Event: Discussion of matters that may come before the Florida Legislature in 2014 Session. Possible discussion that formal library ballot issue could be placed on the Tuesday, November 4, 2014 ballot conditioned upon passage as a straw ballot on Tuesday, August 26, 2014. This would avoid a two year delay, and would ensure that straw ballot pass first as a condition to appearance on the ballot in November 2014. COME LISTEN AND SHOW YOUR SUPPORT.
Petition status as of January 20:
We have over 1,000 petitions that have yet to be submitted for the verification process, but are just one short of reaching the 25,931 number necessary to place the straw ballot issue on the Tuesday, August 26, 2014 ballot.
In other words, we have 25,930 petitions that have been verified, and we will reach the necessary number on Tuesday, January 21, 2014, at 2 p.m. at the Supervisor of Elections Office.
And yes, we will be turning in the additional petitions so that they will be counted as well. If you have petitions in your possession, please submit them to us ASAP and we will formally submit them before the end of the month.
The historic nature of Tuesday's event is that we will have qualified for the first straw ballot in the history of Jacksonville. It will call upon the Florida Legislature to place the library independent district issue on a future ballot after August 26, 2014. The first possibility is November 4, 2014, and the Florida Legislature could do so during the next Legislative Session conditioned upon an affirmative vote of the straw ballot on August 26, 2014. This would be the most efficient method available for bringing this issue to an official vote, and not just a straw vote.
Watch the Florida Times-Union Video
Here's a news clip of an interview with Bill Brinton during the delivery of petitions October 16. Bill delivered the petitions with Ann Harwood-Nuss, Kathleen Brunner, Brittney Behan, Cheryl Williams and Adam Pardue.
More News Coverage
Here's a news clip of our circulators submitting petitions at the Supervisor of Elections Office in September.
Mary Lou Sutherlin, Elizabeth Breting and John Hall all members of Friends of the Murray Hill Library!
Below are some of the places where petitions have recently been gathered:
Back to School Giveaway
Teacher's Supply Depot
Courthouse and Juror's parking lot
Riverside Arts Market (RAM)
Libraries, libraries and libraries!
If you will be gathering petitions at a Library, please let me know so that we don't have redundancies. Thank you!
Looking for more volunteers. Please carve out some time from your week and help us.
Information for Volunteers
For the current list of recommended locations for petition gathering, go to the Volunteer Materials page which has an updated list of times, locations and coordinators.
Our Volunteer Materials page also has a handy selection of documents that many of us will need to use during the Straw Ballot Campaign.
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Volunteer Materials page has a handy selection of documents that many of us will need to use during the Straw Ballot Campaign.
Editorial - June 27 Times Union
Editoral By Mike Clark - NOTICE the Date
Last year, an editorial by Mike Clark at the Times Union summed up the situation. It's the same thing THIS year! Click here to read it.
News - Legal Update: Neptune Beach Says HANDS OFF Beaches Library!
City Council of Neptune Beach passed a resolution on June 17 to formally notify the City of Jacksonville that closing the Beaches Library would violate a previous Interlocal agreement mandating the provision of library services. Read it here (.pdf).
News - Petition Gathering Goes International! What?
Even on vacation, Jacksonville residents are showing their support for libraries!
Petition Gathering Internationally.
Straw Ballot Campaign for Libraries
As part of its advocacy activities in support of libraries, Save Our Public Libraries, Inc. is supporting a straw ballot campaign to determine if there is public support for the creation of a Duval County Library District, similar to the successful independent districts in Alachua County and Orange County, Florida.
More than 26,000 petitions from registered voters are being sought to place this nonbinding straw ballot on the ballot in Year 2014.
Due to the laws that govern straw ballot initiatives, it is not possible for a straw ballot to appear any sooner than the latter half of the Year 2014, but there is every reason to begin this effort now.
The campaign has the support of the governing boards of The Friends of the Jacksonville Public Library, Inc. and the Jacksonville Libraries Foundation, Inc.
Petitions must be signed by registered voters and in order to accomplish that task, we need volunteers and coordinators.
Bad News From the Recent Board of Library Trustees Meeting
To comply with a budget cut ordered by the Mayor’s Office, the Board is planning to close six libraries, end Sunday hours, reduce Main Library hours by eight hours a week and reduce the materials budget by $251.000.
Here (in order of priority) are the cuts:
- Reduce Main Library hours and end Sunday Library service throughout the city
- Close Maxville Library
- Close Brentwood Library
- Close San Marco Library
- Close Willowbranch Library
- Close University Park Library
- Close Beaches Library
- Reduce materials budget by $251,000
You should understand that closing a library means removing all of the books, shelves, etc. and leaving an empty building (presumably to be used for some other purpose or sold).
Public reaction to these drastic steps could bring some change before the Mayor presents his budget to the City Council in July.
Then, the final decision will be made by the Council. The budget takes effect Oct. 1.
Stay tuned for more information as/when we get it.
Save Our Public Libraries, Inc. is a pure advocacy organization. It is not constrained in delivering an important message of library support to the extent that a non-profit entity or a public agency may be constrained. This site will serve as a platform to deliver important messages of library support to public officials.