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- 2014 - February - 5th -

Clock working against library taxing district making 2014 ballot

By David Chapman, Staff Writer

At next week’s meeting, City Council members could support the idea of creating a library taxing district.

But a host of questions and concerns by the Council Auditor’s Office this week will have to first be clarified, if the concept wants to take off this year.

Before it can go on the November ballot as a referendum, it would need help at the local and state level — and if it doesn’t soon, it could mean another couple of years before voters have the opportunity to decide.

Council is debating a resolution to support the idea through a local bill, which local legislators could then take to Tallahassee in March when the session begins. Should it be approved during session and if the straw ballot were to be approved by voters in August, then the creation of a library taxing district could be decided by voters in November.

The library’s board would remain the governance body, while the district would operate the library system and be able to impose a one mill property tax as funding. The library’s budget for 2013-14 was $33.6 million, while one mill raised about $44 million.

But first it has to be supported by council, which has hit a snag in the past couple of days.

Council Auditor Kirk Sherman presented committees with an initial list of 19 questions and concerns his office had with the proposal. Topics included how the district would be structured, its oversight, powers, representation and debt impact, among other concerns.

They were enough that council members didn’t take any action.

Bill Brinton says he has an answer to most of Sherman’s concerns. Others won’t be known until later.

The Rogers Tower attorney said that since Monday’s Rules Committee where much of the discussion took place, several issues already have been resolved.

Some can’t be answered just yet, he says, because it would require the district to first be created.

For example, the auditor’s first concern asked if the district would establish its own human resources, procurement, accounting and others, or if the city would perform the duties and be compensated.

Those decisions, Brinton said, would be determined by the district’s governance. Some could be performed by the city through a competitive request for proposal or an interlocal agreement, while others may be performed by the district, Brinton responds.

“Until the district exists, the district can’t make these decisions,” he said, adding that he would be against any decision to make those decisions for the organization beforehand.

District oversight would be a five-member board comprising three council members, the mayor and Duval County School Board chair. A concern was raised about representation throughout Duval County with the structure and how the council members would be selected.

But, Brinton said that would be up to council. And the school board chair doesn’t represent all voters, either.

Whether Better Jacksonville Plan-related debt and assets would be transferred with the district’s creation also were concerns. But Brinton said both would remain with the city unless they were later transferred to the district, which could be through an interlocal agreement.

The next several days could determine whether voters have the opportunity to make a decision in November. The Duval Delegation requests local support before it picks up an issue to move through Tallahassee.

If it doesn’t pass this year, barring a special election, voters might not see it on the ballot until 2016.

Council likely would need to vote on the resolution Tuesday, the last scheduled meeting before a Feb. 14 Duval Delegation meeting to consider the local bill.

“I am convinced we can solve this,” Brinton said. “But the clock works against us.”

dchapman@baileypub.com

@writerchapman

(904) 356-2466

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