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Sarasota Tuesday, Jun. 18, 2019 2 years ago

County plans to pursue pilot program for Sunday library hours

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If introduced, the pilot program would introduce 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday hours at two local libraries.
by: Samantha Chaney Staff Writer

County officials directed staff members Tuesday to pursue plans to open two local libraries on Sundays — one available to residents in the north end of the county, and one in the south.

During a budget workshop last month, commissioners identified the idea for Sunday hours as a potential new focus aimed at increasing service access to residents and students who come from low socioeconomic backgrounds.

As a result of the preliminary May discussion, commissioners asked staff members and Sarabeth Kalajian — the county’s director of Libraries and Historical Resources — to conduct a study that would include the details necessary to consider such a project.

By June 18, Kalajian and County Administrator Jon Lewis returned with answers: the overall cost of opening two libraries on Sundays for a full year starting in October would be approximately $310,000.

But as the pilot program was only proposed recently, those funds have not been factored into the projected 2020 budget. While the Department of Library and Historical Resources will already be receiving a $1.1 million increase in its overall 2020 budget, those funds are already designated to increase the county’s available collection of borrowable resources.

Where the money would come from, then, became the focal point of the conversation, as all five commissioners unanimously agreed they still wanted to pursue the pilot program.

Commission Chair Charles Hines first suggested running the program for only three to six months as a preliminary test period. After that time, he said, staff could analyze the demographics of who was using the Sunday hours and officials could adjust or end the program accordingly.

“We have a pretty good increase in regards to property values,” he said. “If you budget half of that for 6 months … I know you can find $150,000 to $200,000 somewhere to give this a shot for this coming year.”

“I think we’re kidding ourselves if we say we’ll pay for a couple of months and see how it goes,” Commissioner Nancy Detert argued. “Since it sounds like a board priority to me, if we could, we should instruct the staff to go hunt down $310,000.”

Plus, she said, it was great that officials were looking for money to improve the library system and reward its success rather than because the system was in need of bolstering.

Vice Chair Mike Moran also pointed to the Local Business Tax as a possible source of revenue for the project, saying the issue was not the amount of money available, so much as it was whether the board wanted to truly make the program a priority.

“We have a million dollars in that LBT tax,” he said. “We could have a serious debate on whether we could put that towards the quality of life issues here (in Sarasota).”

Ultimately, Kalajian said it was her goal to start the program in January rather than October — effectively cutting the overall cost from $310,000 to about $232,000.

And while the two libraries to be opened on Sunday were not confirmed, she presented Selby Public Library and Jacaranda Public Library as two potential locations. Their high volume of traffic and accessibility to various communities, she said, made them ideal.

While commissioners did not land on any one source of funding for the program, they were adamant that Sunday hours were worth pursuing.

“The reason I supported this is there’s been a huge assumption that … this is going to be for a different crowd,” Hines said. “The need for this is for folks who work during the week, who work at night. For kids that have homework and don’t have access to computers or the internet. That’s why we need to open this up.”

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