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Straw ballot must show financial impact of library taxing district, city lawyer says

By David Chapman, Staff Writer

When it comes to the straw ballot for a library taxing district, more is better.

The Office of General Counsel this week said the financial impact statement about the effects of creating an independent library system should be on the straw ballot question that voters will see in August.

That district could levy a one mill property tax to fund the system but it wouldn’t actually be established until the Legislature passed it and voters approved the idea via referendum.

Because the district would be created through a local bill and later by the voters, one backer thought the straw ballot fiscal impact would be minimal at most because it isn’t binding.

The opinion by Assistant General Counsel Stephen Durden did not agree.

“The Charter specifically requires a financial impact statement for all straw ballots,” the opinion states. “Such requirement becomes an exercise in the absurd if the answer each and every time would necessarily be: ‘The Straw Ballot has no financial impact because the Straw Ballot is not binding and has no legal effect.’”

Instead, the ad hoc committee charged with coming up with that statement has the “power and responsibility” to summarize the impact should the district be created, the opinion states.

Before the opinion was issued, the Council Auditor’s Office issued a statement on the issue saying the financial impact on the city “cannot be precisely determined.”

But, it will reduce the city’s ability to levy a property tax — about $44 million according to this year’s numbers — but that the library’s $33 million budget would be off the books.

Also unknown were any issues with agreements with the Beaches and Baldwin, as well as pension costs from eliminating library employees.

Those items were part of a larger group of discussion points the auditor’s office brought up, which were:

• The city would be responsible for the payout of unused leave for up to 282 full-time employees who would be removed from the city payroll because of

creating the district. There also would be a reduction to the General Employees’ Pension Plan because of those losses.

• A three-month cash flow problem because a of timing and transition costs. Options could be for the city to budget funding the library for one quarter of the year and retain oversight. Or, it could loan the library money.

• The interlocal agreements for consolidated government maintain the city provide library services as a county function, while the Beaches and Baldwin provide their own city services. The question is whether those agreements need to be reopened.

Council Auditor Kirk Sherman in recent weeks has brought up several questions and concerns about the district. In response, there have been several meetings to address them, but not enough for council to have taken up the matter this past Tuesday.

In response, the Duval Delegation canceled its meeting today that would have taken up the issue, meaning it’s less likely it would take the issue to Tallahassee when the session begins next month.

The August straw ballot will remain, but without the needed approvals, it could be the next countywide election in 2016 when voters have a final say.

dchapman@baileypub.com

(904) 356-2466

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