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Letter to the Editor from Katie Petros, Village of Key Biscayne Council Member

On October 7, I participated in a meeting with a fellow council member regarding the plans for a potential new library on Key Biscayne in collaboration with Miami Dade County. Several residents attended and shared their views. I left the meeting, however, believing there is a great deal of information about the proposed library that is either unknown or misunderstood. It should be clarified to ensure all citizens have a better understanding why this potential opportunity will be a tremendous asset.

It is generally understood, but bears repeating, that libraries are a benefit to the entire community. They provide an inviting environment for people of all ages, and foster a universal appreciation of reading, learning, and sharing in ways that are obvious but difficult to quantify. With each passing year, as we become more socially conscious of waste and prioritize recycling and conservation, libraries offer the perfect compliment to these practices.

Hasn’t the library been doing that for years? While most can afford to buy new books, isn’t it preferable to borrow one from your local library and socialize with neighbors at the same time? And what about quiet spaces for study groups, or lectures by authors to educate and enlighten us? Shared computers and free wifi access also are available in county libraries. Circulation numbers don’t provide the whole story of the use -- and benefit -- of today’s libraries.

The Miami-Dade County Library system benefits our Village in many ways. We don’t subsidize the current library. The county owns the land and the building and provides the staff to operate it. Our library partnership with Miami-Dade County has provided meaningful return to the Village.

The county is now interested in collaborating to provide a new and improved library for our community. The present facility would require a major upgrade to meet our current needs. Presently, our tax dollars generate over $2 million for the Miami-Dade County library system, money that is assessed and collected through our property taxes, just like the schools and the county’s general fund.

In exchange, we enjoy the benefit of the library and receive access to all county libraries and their extensive online offerings. In addition, we support a system that provides benefits to communities who can’t afford their own books or computers and may desperately need a safe space to gather, study and learn. If we were to leave the system, we would need to buy or lease land, pay for the design and construction of a new building, buy content, and staff it with Village employees. The $2.4 million we currently contribute annually would be consumed quickly with debt service, maintenance, and staffing needs, not to mention the time it would take to complete all these steps.

Additionally, if we opt out of the county library, we would be sending a message to the county that we are wholly self-interested while, at the same time, we seek their support and financial resources in other areas of greater cost to us. Beach restoration and water quality control are just two examples.

In the last two years the county mayor has written three letters to our federal representatives endorsing our inclusion in a Federal Beach Renourishment Project that provides millions to the county to keep their beaches healthy. This project is already in existence and up for renewal; we just aren’t included. Efforts like these won’t guarantee our acceptance into the program, but we wouldn’t even be in the conversation without his endorsement.

Last December, after contemplating all reasonable scenarios for a new library, the Village council voted to have our manager and attorney engage the county on the idea of building a new and vastly improved library at the existing location. We also requested input from the county attorney’s office before the manager proceeded. The county filed a declaratory relief action to clarify the language of the deed, but has not sought to lift the restriction that limits the use of the land to a library. If and when our manager brings back a tentative agreement that meets our approval, we would then commence the public participation process -- most likely starting with a workshop to seek input from all residents.

In every conversation I have had with county representatives, I have been assured the county is not interested in building a massive library. To the contrary, the desire is to build a new building that enhances the area, including those who live closest to the site. The county’s conceptual drawings shared with us two years ago depicted a two-story building utilizing the current footprint, with no invasion of the pond, gardens or parking lot. Given our present circumstances, I think we should also be considering water retention features to facilitate drainage on the site.

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I am in full support of this idea and hope we can work together as a community to create a library that is as successful and cherished as our Village Green and Community Center. There are so many potential benefits to collaborating with Miami-Dade County to markedly improve our existing library. I look forward to working with my fellow council members and participating with residents in developing this exciting project.

Katie

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