After an 8 1/2-hour public hearing, Miami-Dade County commissioners found a way to keep its library system essentially intact early Wednesday morning while also not raising taxes.
In July, commissioners voted to hold the line on taxes, but that meant laying off firefighters, abandoning plans for a no-kill animal shelter and cutting hours, services and jobs from the library system. In the weeks that followed, all three became hot issues, but it was the libraries that dominated Tuesday night's public hearing. Librarian Jennifer Lopez said patrons would be devastated.
“They need a place where they can use the Internet because they do not have Internet at home,” said Lopez. “They need a place where they can use a computer because they do not have a computer at home. They need a place where they can apply for a jobs fill out paperwork, apply for citizenship, apply for a green card or apply for welfare.”
Others warned that gutting libraries would deprive children of safe spaces, increase unemployment and make the county unattractive to relocating businesses. Some libraries would have been open only four hours a day, four days a week. Commissioner Dennis Moss found it appalling.
“We are priding ourselves on wanting to be that world-class community,” Moss said. “And we just in my opinion can't continue to go this particular route.”
Under the plan adopted early this morning, taxes stay where they are but reserve funds will be tapped to keep all libraries open for a full schedule. But Mayor Carlos Gimenez said there would still be damage.
“That’s not going to be with the same staffing, that’s impossible, the money is not there,” warned Gimenez.
But he said displaced library staff will be first in line for other county jobs. Commissioners take their final budget vote later this month.
As for those pets and firefighters, commissioners have agreed to increase funding for animal services -- again, with no tax hike -- and hope for a federal grant to keep all the firefighters on the job.