Some options when considering a new or upgraded library
This letter is about a better library for our Village, something I personally spent two years researching. I studied the Miami-Dade Library System, visiting a number of the branch libraries, and speaking with personnel at various levels. I also visited five municipal libraries in counties that already have county-wide library systems. They found the best course of action was to do it on their own.
I read Councilmember Petros’s recent letter (in the Islander News) about our library and what to do to improve it. I agree with what she had to say about the value of a library and that we need to do more and better for our community. Where we differ is in how to go about it. I believe working with the county and the current library site is a losing proposition that will only result in more mediocrity and expense. The best solution as it’s been before with incorporation and fire rescue is doing it ourselves.
President John F. Kennedy, when speaking about going to the moon, said, “We choose to do this not because it’s easy, but because it’s hard.” And so it would be to have the kind of library this community deserves. To those that say it will be hard and no one has ever done it before, I say that’s what they said about incorporation and fire rescue, and look where we are now. I believe this community can do anything it puts its mind to when it has the leadership from the council to do something bold and good.
If you listen to the Miami-Dade library management you might conclude the county library system is one of the best, and that Key Biscayne is just not up to par. That would be incorrect. The University of Florida publishes statistics on library performance measuring the number of visits compared to the population served. In other words how often people actual use the library. The most recent (FY 2017-18) statistics show Miami-Dade dead last among systems in Florida servicing more than 750,000 with 1.92 visits per capita. That compares to Broward 4.20 and Palm Beach 4.29. Miami-Dade is not really even in the ballpark. And how do those municipal libraries stack up? The 3 that I visited and met with that were really impressive are North Miami Beach 6.01, Fort Myers Beach 4.59, and most impressive and probably the city most similar to Key Biscayne, Sanibel 17.55.
Looking at Miami-Dade’s dismal record and what it takes to have a really good library in terms of facilities, programs and personnel it was easy to come to the conclusion we need to do it ourselves. Yes, it will cost a lot of money, but if we break away we will have $2.4 million a year to work with without raising a dime of additional tax. At current interest rates that could raise $20 million in infrastructure funds and leave adequate money for operating expenses. Sure, those numbers sound huge. But put it in perspective. When the Village spend $8.5 million in the face of serious opposition for the Village Green years ago, that is equivalent to spending $14 million today. We can do this.
Lastly, where? There are realistically only three sites to consider: the current location, 530, and the entry block. I rejected the current location as too small to provide everything we should have. It’s also too invasive to Key Colony, and its adding traffic to already one of the busiest intersections on the Key. The original plan for the municipal complex was four buildings, with the fourth building on 530. Subsequent councils have amended that plan and 530 is now planned as a park, so that is a challenge. But nothing has been built yet.
The entry block could work, but traffic access is not easy and it is expensive. The owners are asking an unrealistic price for it, but negotiations might change something. So everything looks difficult. But let’s not forget what Kennedy said, or what this Village has accomplished in the face of odds that looked a lot harder than this. Also, with the merger of BB&T and SunTrust, there might be a bank building available to consider.
At this point the Council has not decided to do anything with the county. In fact, it has done the opposite. The final motion that passed 7-0, according to the minutes of the Dec. 4, 2018 council meeting, was to do nothing until notice is received from the County Attorney’s office (that) it is possible to expand the current library building. To that end, the county has filed a lawsuit to vacate the deed restrictions on that property. The Village is not a party to that lawsuit. It has not decided to build a new library with the county on the existing site, even if it turns out to be possible to expand the existing building.
Now would be a good time to let the council know what you think. It’s your money and your library, not anyone else’s.
Former Vice Mayor and Councilmember