By Margie Plunkett
The Palm Beach County Library System closed the book on Ocean Ridge’s request to opt out of the library taxing district because it has its own community library.
Ocean Ridge’s pitch was the first of its kind, according to Library Director John J. Callahan III, who turned the town down in a July letter that said the volunteer library with donated books doesn’t have a separate town allocation and its services don’t meet Florida Public Library Standards. “It came up once before as an inquiry, but this is the first one that formally asked to withdraw,” Callahan said.
The town’s move was an attempt to save residents money: “The library tax is a very healthy tax,” said Town Manager Ken Schenck, adding the bid may not be over yet. “We haven’t necessarily given up.”
In total, Ocean Ridge residents will pay about $361,422 in taxes to the library district in the 2009/10 budget year, based on the town’s aggregate taxable value of $727.2 million and the library district’s tax rate of $0.497 per $1,000 of assessed value. A resident whose home had a taxable value of $200,000 would pay $99.40.
Other municipalities, including Delray Beach and Boca Raton, aren’t in the county library district, their own libraries pre-dating the county system, Callahan said. Gulf Stream is among that group. The original requirement said cities could opt out if they provided library service, according to Callahan. “They didn’t have certain restrictions you had to follow in the way you operated it,” said Rita Taylor, Gulf Stream town clerk. She noted, however, that Gulf Stream also had a budget line item for library expenses.
Before a community can sever ties to the county library system now, it has to offer library services that meet state standards. The state requires that libraries have a degreed library staff, have a facility open at least 40 hours a week, provide reciprocal lending, have an annual budget and provide access to materials on the Internet and databases available on the Florida Electronic Library, among other things.
Ocean Ridge Commissioner Lynn Allison was among those who visited area libraries before agreeing to establish a library because it would be an asset to the town as well as provide a tax advantage.
“It’s beautiful,” Allison said of the resulting library, organized by the Ocean Ridge Garden Club and citizens. But the rules concerning the tax advantages — such as that the library must have a computer — either became more stringent or the organizers didn’t know about them, she said. Even if it isn’t a tax benefit, Allison said, “we’ll continue to have our library. It’s a benefit to our citizens.”
Callahan said that “from the county’s viewpoint, the library is part of the educational infrastructure of the community, just like they support schools” and other services such as fire rescue.