Monday, March 26, 2012

It Takes a Millage

What if the Jacksonville Public Library wanted to renovate to better serve the community with something like impressive bandwidth to support new technologies? What if it wanted to knock down a wall and open up a glorious meeting space to accommodate community gatherings and educational programs? Consider what this community’s libraries could become if the JPL could carry over its funds from one year to the next and shunt them into a capital improvements fund. Ask yourself what kind of bandwidth the JPL might want if it aims to become a 21st Century Library serving this community’s current needs.

In its existing funding structure as a Dependent District whose primary funding comes through the City of Jacksonville’s General Fund, the JPL must hand back its collected fees and year-end operations savings to be swept back into that fund, so there is little hope for an impressive bandwidth or staying open an extra hour on a peak day. In fact, hours have been reduced as the City has made additional budget cuts. Large-scale renovations and future-minded projects are difficult, if not impossible to consider.

Tampa-Hillsborough Public Library and Palm Beach Public Library can make plans, however, as each has a dedicated millage: a set percentage of the property taxes dedicated to the Library. Funds can be carried over, making for much more flexibility in budgeting. In Palm Beach, they can even move funding from capital improvement funds to operational funds and vice versa, depending on a budget year’s needs.

Though a dedicated millage does fluctuate some with property values, the flexibility and planning ability that comes with a dedicated millage makes for pretty stable funding in the long run. The ability to save and set aside money in times of property tax boons--or when finding efficiencies in operating costs—allows a library system to be prepared for belt tightening in leaner times. Also, it allows for saving up for large projects instead of having to sacrifice a substantial (and sometimes impractical) portion of a year’s budget.

Dedicated millage has nothing to do with an increase in taxes. If the JPL were to become funded through a dedicated millage, it would require the City Council’s changing of the Ordinance Code to decide on a tax rate dedicated to the libraries. Perhaps Jacksonville’s citizens are ready to come together in an “it takes a millage” grassroots effort to support its libraries in this way, allowing them to fully serve and improve this whole village.

As a villager, you may also want to read this Florida Times-Union editorial discussing the JPL’s ability to remain relevant.

JCCI’s “Check it Out” study continues its discussion of how an independent tax district compares and may or may not be feasible as a means of achieving stable funding for the JPL. Grab your lunch and join us, Fridays at JCCI, 11:30 a.m.-1:00 p.m. Please RSVP.