Candidates for the Longboat Key Town Commission probably didn’t have to read between the lines when they were invited to speak to Longboat Library members and volunteers Monday, Jan. 7.
Library members have approached the commission over the past two years to explore funding options, such as including a line item in the town’s budget for the nonprofit or allowing the library, which leases its land and building from the town, to piggyback off the town’s insurance.
So, it was expected that library members and volunteers would want to know whether commissioners would consider opening the town’s checkbook in the future for the organization.
Mayor Jim Brown told those in attendance that the town’s line items have typically been reserved for organizations that belong to the town. Instead, he said that library services are an area in which the town could seek some of its tax dollars that go to Sarasota County each year.
“It would be worth pursuing whether you would gain funds through the county by dropping the annual fee,” Brown said.
Library board members have explored funding options through Sarasota County and have been told by officials that state aid for the library is conditioned on library services being free.
For now, however, membership fees remain the major source of income for the library, which is run by volunteers.
Brown’s challenger, Larry Grossman, said that the library should join the county’s library system.
Irwin Pastor is challenging Commissioner Terry Gans, who was not present at the forum. Pastor suggested that a non-profit foundation could help the library continue to provide its services.
Commissioner Phill Younger — whom the audience chided for his admission that he sometimes folds the pages of books — emphasized ways that the town and commission have worked to help the library. For example, Town Manager Dave Bullock, who was previously the deputy administrator of Sarasota County, worked with Sarasota County Commissioner Joe Barbetta to help secure a one-time $20,000 grant that the library received last year from the county.
Gene Jaleski, who is challenging Younger, said that the town and library should have entered into a public-private partnership a long time ago and expressed support for a line item, citing Longboat Key’s wealth and the town’s reserves.
But Younger argued that the town’s reserves have been depleted in recent years. Reserves are set aside for emergencies, he said, and aren’t a “bottomless pit.”
Brown echoed a similar sentiment:
“We don’t have any money,” he said, telling the audience that town employees haven’t had raises in five years and that citizens have told commissioners that they don’t want their taxes increased.
Commissioners, candidates and library members discussed other ways of working together to benefit the library, such as an expanded presence on the town’s website and promoting the library by including a sheet in utility bills.
The forum was the first candidate forum of this year’s election.
Commission candidates will meet again this Friday, when they speak to the Republican Club of Longboat Key.