The Dismantling of Clearwater Beach
By Anne McKay Garris
Last week, the Governor of Florida gave the Clearwater City Council permission to lease our municipal marina to private enterprise for up to 30 years without a referendum, leaving in doubt how much use the public will have of the facility in the future.
This week, the directors of the Clearwater Library and Parks and Recreation submitted their proposals for closing the Clearwater Beach Library and the Clearwater Beach Pool as part of their response to the Clearwater City Manager's requirement that each department reduce their budget by 5% for the year 2010-2011, starting in October when the fiscal year begins.
Library Director Barbara Pickell reported to the Clearwater Library Board that she recommended the Library's 5% cut be obtained by closing the Clearwater Beach Library and the North Greenwood Library. This would save $100,000 from operation of the Beach Library and $150,000 from operation of the North Greenwood Library.
Ms. Pickell pointed out that, although the two libraries are busy, together they represent only 7% of the overall usage in the City. There are no plans, however, to dismantle the Beach Library or use the space for some other purpose. Remodeled two years ago, at a cost of $600,000, the Beach Library has been considered a gem and a fine example of how delightful a small library can be. If it is closed this year, it will also be an example of wasted tax money in a City where long range planning is neglected.
The recommended library budget for 2010-2011 also includes $600,000 for buying books and other materials next year. Asked which is more important, many new materials or keeping libraries open, Ms. Pickell responded that it was a matter of balance. "A large majority of patrons are interested in the new material," she said, adding that it is important to have libraries open, but also to have new material available when people come. "And it is my responsibility to reduce the budget where it will damage the City the least."
Clearwater is a member of the countywide library system, which makes it possible for Clearwater citizens to use all the libraries in the county and non-Clearwater citizens to use ours. In return, the Clearwater system receives 20% of its budget from the county system. Forty percent of Clearwater Library usage, however, is by non-Clearwater citizens.
Asked about the $1,200 just recently donated for the purpose of buying new computers, Ms. Pickell promptly made it clear that those computers would be made available for use in the community. She further promised that the one-on-one computer learning program for which they were purchased would be made available at least once a week in the Recreation Center building. Funds for the purchase of the computers were donated by the Clearwater Beach Association, the Friends of the Clearwater Beach Library and Recreation Center, and individual citizens.
"I never like closing libraries," said Ms. Pickell.
So far, closing the two libraries is only a recommendation to the City Manager. Before it becomes a final decision, it must be recommended by the City Manager to the City Council, where the final decision is made.
The Beach pool is also up for closing, according to the April minutes of the City of Clearwater Parks and Recreation Board. The minutes also mention the possibility of demolishing the pool to keep from paying to maintain it. This too, would be in response to the City Manager's edict that each department reduces their budget by 5%.
Closing the pool will save the City $60,000 of the $1 million which the Recreation Department must cut from its budget this year, according to Art Kader, Assistant Director of the Clearwater Parks and Recreation Department. The actual cost of operating the pool is $96,260, but $36,000 of that is made up by fees paid by people who use or rent the facility. Mr. Kader pointed out that many of the recreation facilities and pools are already financed in partnership with organizations. Demolishing of the pool would only come if absolutely necessary to prevent the safety hazard of a pool sitting unattended and unused. Again, the final decision will be made by the Clearwater City Councilmembers who have to choose closing facilities over decisions for other uses of the money, such as accepting the Sheriff's Departments proposal to do the City's policing, thus saving millions.
Add to this the loss that happened a few years ago, of the Memorial Civic Center, which housed an auditorium, the library, a welcome center, the police branch on the beach, and the cultural and recreational assets that are considerably diminished, along with the sense of community.
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