Today, library advocates came out strong in the fight for full-funding and left Commissioner Bovo, Commissioner Moss, and Commissioner Bell with what Commissioner Bovo called the “$64 million question.”
Finance Committee member Commissioner Heyman and Commission Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa stayed for the majority of the meeting and left before the Library Department presentation, while Commissioner Zapata stayed for the majority of the public speakers after the Library presentation and left early.
It was a relatively full-house for a morning meeting, where Commissioner Bovo reiterated that no final decisions would be made, and expressed that the purpose of these meetings were to gather information from the Departments on how their budget plans were coming along before the millage rates are set in July.
Department Directors each came up to the dais, from the following, Office of Budget and Management, Audit and Management Services, Cultural Affairs, Animal Services, and fielded questions from the Finance Commission and interested Commissioners who were eager to see where savings were found and what the Department heads were asking for the next fiscal year.
Yet, when head of Cultural Affairs, Michael Spring, finished his presentation, Commissioner Bovo said: “We’re about to get into what I imagine is going to be a lengthy discussion on libraries." To this, Spring responded “We love libraries,” and hands shot up to signify clapping within the Chamber. Commissioner Bovo then asked if any programs were to be intertwined with libraries in order to alleviate their programming; Spring responded: that Parks, Libraries and Cultural affairs are already collaborating, but “We can do more of that… but in fairness to the library, this is not a driving force in their budget.”
After a presentation of Animal Services, up next was Library Director Raymond Santiago, who briefly went over the flat budget base that was required as part of the presentation. Essentially, in a two-second summation from a brief two minute presentation: with a flat budget, cuts would be found everywhere in the Library department.
Commissioner Bovo then asked: With a pre-recession budget, what could be done with the Library department?
The answer was simple: with the appropriate budget, the Library would be able to improve upon every aspect of their service and offer services once previously cut.
With a discussion on Library leases, Commissioner Bovo and Commissioner Zapata remarked on how it did not make sense at all why one County department would pay another County Department rent for a building. Such rules had been in place for decades now, and it was up to the Commissioners to find change so that a more common-sense process could take place for leased buildings.
Then, another charged question from Commissioner Bovo: the average librarian’s salary ranges from $60,000 to ~$80,000?
Santiago then defended his dedicated staff and made it clear that not all library workers were Librarians, and that the base librarian salary was not $60,000 – but $48,000. That this number, quite frankly, is on par with national level standards and industry standards that require a Master’s Degree– that this number is what gets the community professionally trained staff who are specialized to teach information literacy.
“I think it’s wholly unfair, the attacks we’ve seen on our staff,’’ Santiago said. “This community deserves quality staff.”
While the public was invited to speak after every Department presentation, only the Libraries received the public attention, with about two dozen speakers signed up to speak. Library advocates did not just come from vocal staff and librarians, but from Task Force members and patrons from near and far who were deeply concerned for the impending cuts that their libraries would face in the future should the millage rate not be raised.
Small business owner Thom M. who was also a member of the Blue Ribbon Task Force remarked eloquently that as a small business owner, the libraries can only serve him if they are open – that with limited hours, individuals such as himself would not be able to access services.
Mayor Lerner, who continues to be a strong supporter for full-funding, reflected on how deeply the cuts have hurt her particular branch, Pinecrest Branch Library, both in programming, hours, and staffing.
Librarian Kathy Seaver noted that the Task Force’s recommendation was to maintain and enhance service – to not allow for any cuts of any kind – and that $64 million would be the number to shoot for.
Executive Director of the Miami-Dade Democrats, Juan Cuba remarked that, he has never before witnessed the intense level of scrutiny for the Library budget. “"There's no better investment this commission can make in the future of our community than funding our libraries,” he stated.
Patrons hailing Naranja, to Pinecrest, to Coral Gables, included Britney, a volunteer who dreams of being a librarian. Having just moved from Indiana, she knew she only needed one place to go to feel at home: the library.
Lisa, former librarian and now librarian in FIU, noted that her words were not to fight for her colleagues or for her former employer, but instead for her son. Would her son have a library and a librarian to go to in the future? Her estimated cost of resources used in the library last year was $15,000, yet her tax bill came at around less than $20.00. To double that tax in order to fund the library, her return on investment would still be at 99%. “The library is a bargain,” she stated.
Friends of MDPLS and the Library Advisory Board advocated as well, and informed our Commissioners that they will soon receive a budget breakdown of a $64 million scenario.
The message was clear: invest in our libraries. Invest in our future.
Thank you to many who attended but could not stay to speak, most especially Paul Edwards, President of the Florida Council of the Blind, who stayed as long as he could to represent the visually impaired and advocate for the integral service that the Library provides for the demographic.
Thank you to everyone who attended, both in the chambers, and online watching the webcast, tweeting out to us, and sharing the news. Your continued dedication to the cause is what makes everything not only possible, but worthwhile. We say that #MiamiLovesLibraries because it is continually demonstrated, not just in meetings like these where our public participation is integral, but every day when patrons walk through the doors of their local library.
Lets continue the good fight – spread the word. By July, there should be only one choice that our Commissioners have: full-funding for our libraries.