Library taxing district may have to wait until 2016
Putting the question of creating a library taxing district on the November ballot needs several dominoes to correctly fall.
The first one is still upright after City Council didn’t take up a resolution Tuesday supporting the idea.
With that lack of action, the Duval Delegation pulled its own domino out of play by canceling a Friday meeting called to discuss whether to take the idea to the Legislature, which begins session next month.
After collecting 30,000-plus signatures, the item will be on a straw ballot in August. But, it needs council and legislative approval, plus a positive response in August for it to be on the November ballot.
The independent district would be able to levy up to one mill of property taxes to fund the system, which would bring in about $44 million. The library’s funding this year was just under $34 million.
The district would operate the library, while the board would continue to govern the operations.
Concerns and questions from the Council Auditor’s Office last week have been discussed in a series of meetings, but too many remained outstanding for a Tuesday council vote.
Among them were how the district is structured, the fate of employees and how it would affect interlocal agreements between the city and outlying communities.
Meetings over the past week among Council Auditor Kirk Sherman, Rogers Tower attorney Bill Brinton — representing the citizens’ group — and other city departments has clarified some of the issues. But, not enough for council to act.
Council President Bill Gulliford sponsored the local bill with council member John Crescimbeni, but sent out a letter Tuesday saying he was withdrawing his name.
“I just don’t see this thing going anywhere until we get all that resolved,” he said after Tuesday’s council meeting, referencing library employees and the interlocal agreement as concerns.
He said he thought the time constraints put on the Legislature and Duval Delegation would make it “very difficult” to be done with the proper review. Despite taking his name off, he said he has no favorable or unfavorable view of the idea.
“I think we are to the point where we have to be honest and say this thing has to be done right,” he said. “I’m not sure we have the time to do it.”
Crescimbeni said he also didn’t think the idea would be ready in time, but that he wanted to see what happens at the committee level next week. He said there are “a lot of open-ended questions that need to be resolved,” but would continue to sponsor the local bill out of respect for those who signed the petition.
“I think we ought to talk about it,” he said.
Today, Sherman, Brinton and the city will resume talks regarding the financial impact statement needed for August’s straw ballot. Brinton said the cost for the straw ballot is minimal.
Sherman counters there is a need for analysis of the costs should voters approve the district and it were created. A fiscal impact range could work, but describing it as “undetermined” won’t suffice.
“I can’t have my name attached to that,” Sherman said. “I can’t in good conscience do that.”
Sherman said his major concerns include how the district would impact interlocal agreements with the Beaches and Baldwin, such as how it would affect the city’s ability to impose property taxes.
Those communities have caps on their rates.
Several public commenters Tuesday evening called the idea of creating an independent library district anti-consolidation. Earlier Tuesday, Brinton said he didn’t see it working against consolidation and instead took the same approach using voter approval.
“It’s the same type of trend of having civic engagement,” he said.
Another benefit of having an independent district: philanthropy.
As part of the city, Brinton says the library can’t capitalize on philanthropic efforts for fear the funds would be absorbed by the general fund and not go toward improving the library. With independence, that wouldn’t be a concern and potentially could offset the one mill the district would impose.
If it isn’t on the November ballot, should it pass in August, it’s likely the next opportunity would be 2016, the next countywide election.
Also from Tuesday’s council meeting:
• The second phase of Mayor Alvin Brown’s reorganization seemed close to a vote, but was sent back to committee after questions were raised about expenses for moving departments, the Duval Delegation office’s relocation during the legislative session, build-outs and other related costs. “We are learning a lot of stuff,” said council member Bill Bishop, shortly before the item was pushed back to committee.
• It wasn’t the only item relegated back to the committee level. A bill to use $129,000 from a Solid Waste account to fund an April tire and “bandit” sign buyback event appeared poised to pass before a question was asked for details of the funding source. The only problem? The item came up at the end of the meeting and there was no authority on the subject to answer questions. Council member Denise Lee, head of the ad hoc committee that introduced the bill, asked about other funding sources but ended up allowing it to be deferred. “We should not have to do this,” she said. “We should have that person (here).” Gulliford said he would write the administration a letter to ensure proper staff stays until the end of meetings.
• Council approved part of Brown’s Youth Initiative when it appropriated $56,000 from the Jacksonville Journey to increase the number of first-time offenders who can participate in Teen Court. The funds will hire two part-time employees who will help assess, monitor and refer cases.