Monday, April 2, 2012

Like Pulling Teeth

You know how when you put off going to the dentist for your free cleanings and exams you end up paying a thousand dollars for a three-hour root canal? What if the Jacksonville Public Library did not have to wait in a City queue for its building maintenance for so long that it ended up having to shut down a children’s department in one branch for a year because of extensive mold? Regular cleanings prevent cavities, and updating computers and maintaining roofs prevents Library irrelevancy and shut downs.

However, the current budgetary use-it-or-lose-it approach means the JPL cannot carry over funds from one year to the next, so it’s a bit like having dental insurance with a high deductible. You can’t save money in an account so that if one year you need three fillings instead of one you can keep your healthy smile. The JPL may want to install what are ultimately money-saving self check-in sorting machines, but it can only do so if and when it has the funding in a given year. When the budget is cut, it is worse. The Library starts looking more toothless in the form of reduced hours and closed branches.

It is becoming clear that stable funding includes the ability to carry over funds. The flexibility to budget and plan for bite-corrective orthodontics—space-changing renovations--requires stable funding.
If Jacksonville wanted to, it could make the JPL an independent tax district, with the flexibility to plan ahead, to make money-saving operational decisions, and to keep revenue generated from everything from fees—which are currently swept back to the City’s General Fund—to innovative entrepreneurial initiatives, such as Alachua County Public Library’s renting its roof to a solar power company. Alachua County has a gleaming, gorgeous smile, as libraries go. As an independent tax district, flexibility in its budget has allowed it to save or generate enough money to offer inter-library loan and reciprocal borrowing privileges to library users from surrounding counties and database access to users with a library card. Alachua County Public Library has even eliminated late return fees.

Toothache may be the only thing that motivates some to take a trip to the dentist, though, so as bigger budget cuts continue to close library doors earlier and more frequently, or the Library has to consider charging borrowers for privileges, the community may be inclined to make an appointment and get this Library situation looked at by a professional.

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