Miami Mayor Faces Heat Over Library Cuts

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez has proposed slashing nearly 100 full-time public library positions. Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez has proposed slashing nearly 100 full-time public library positions. Flickr user Phillip

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who is set to face off against county commissioners next week over his job-cutting proposed “worst-case scenario” budget, is feeling continued heat from library advocates who are now armed with a new survey that shows strong opposition to significant cuts to library funding in South Florida’s largest city.

The Bendixen Amandi International poll, commissioned by the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce with support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, shows overwhelming opposition — 80 percent — to significant library funding cuts. Thirteen percent supported cuts.

The poll asked 5,200 likely registered voters — 400 in each Miami-Dade County’s commission district in English, Spanish and Haitian-Creole — specifically about whether the library portion of the local property tax should be increased.

According to the Knight Foundation:

This survey included additional options: cut spending on other county services to preserve library funding, or reduce library services.

Even when told that the budget deficit could be up to $20 million, 67 percent of respondents wanted the county to find a solution that preserved library funding, either by increasing the library portion of the property tax (34 percent) or cutting spending for other county services (33 percent), while 22 percent favored cutting library services to cover the deficit and 11 percent offered no opinion.

WATCH:  Fernand Amandi explains the poll’s findings on Vimeo.

“Our community’s residents made it clear in the survey that they are concerned about significant cuts to our library system,” Barry E. Johnson, president and CEO of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement. “While the pressure on [the] budget for all county services is enormous, we believe a focus of the value of our libraries should be a priority.”

Cutting public library services can be an unpopular move with residents anywhere, though depending on a particular locality’s fiscal health, it is often an inevitable move in distressed budget situations.

The Miami Herald reported earlier this year that Gimenez directed library director Raymond Santiago to craft a $30 million budget that would ax 56 percent of the system’s full-time staff members and cut service hours by 35 percent, though not shutter any branches. In 2013, Gimenez faced intense opposition over a proposal to shutter branches that see fewer patrons.

This week, the mayor announced a revised budget plan that would raise the portion of the property taxes devoted to libraries to generate $45 million in funding and suggested replacing 94 full-time staff positions with part-time workers.

As Miami New Times reported, library supporters aren’t pleased with the mayor’s plan:

Library advocates are steamed. They demand $64 million. "Libraries are not just buildings with caretakers," said Terry Murphy, a board member of Friends of the Miami-Dade Public Library. "Gimenez thinks he can just bring in someone to open and close doors, but professional staff is crucial to a library."

Miami-Dade commissioners will meet with the mayor on Tuesday to discuss the local property tax rate. The Herald reported Thursday that Gimenez signaled he would “probably” veto any move by county commissioners to raise the maximum rate, though that statement seems to allow some wiggle room that could allow for a vote on higher property taxes when the final budget is adopted in September.

“I don’t want to put my feet in concrete,” Gimenez told the newspaper’s editorial board.

Photo by Flickr user Phillip via a Creative Commons Attribution Generic 2.0 License

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