Guest column: Bonita shouldn't check out of Lee library system

Guest commentary

On Wednesday, the Bonita Springs City Council will vote on whether or not to follow the recommendations of its Library Task Force, which I used to chair.

Council member Bill Lonkart has expressed that he will change his position and vote to leave the Lee County library system in favor of Bonita Springs establishing its own.

The Library Task Force was established to review the services with the county library system in light of the disparities in tax revenue collected and the amount of revenue spent on the Bonita Springs library. The task force reported in May 2010 that it recommends staying with the county library and to seek the county’s cooperation to build a much-needed new library.

Since that time Lee County has worked with the city to evaluate the present library facility and the possibility of making an addition or building a new library. The county has met with the task force and council members with ongoing discussions of the future needs of library for Bonita Springs.

With the task force recommendation, City Council endorsed a request to have Lee County complete a $50,000 library study that would evaluate what would best serve the needs of the Bonita Springs library community as well as the cost of building a new library.

If council votes now to separate the library, if could possibly take more than five years to break ground for a new library.

Here’s why:

First, the council would have to put a referendum on the ballot for the voters to approve creating a new taxing authority — and level of bureaucracy. This would most likely not be possible until the city election in 2015. There would be no assurances that the voters would even approve such a move. The Friends of the Library and the Chamber of Commerce have already voiced their support to stay with the county library system.

Second, the Florida Legislature would then have to approve the creation of a new taxing district and authority for Bonita Springs. Because of the lateness of the referendum, if passed, it may not get on the legislative agenda until 2016.

Third, if these two hurdles are met, Lee County would have to agree to allow Bonita Springs to withdraw from the county library system and forgo the tax revenues.

We know the struggles the Bonita Springs fire department has had with the county to create its own ambulance service. If the county does not allow the library withdrawal, the residents of Bonita would be taxed twice for these services.

Finally, if the all these hurdles are overcome in favor of Bonita Springs, the city would still have to commit $12 million to $13 million to build a new library, if built on city-owned property. The city could bond the funds based on future library tax revenues, once it started the collection of these revenues. Still, there would be the need to consider a location, size, architectural plans, etc.

Now we could be looking to the fall of 2018.

Even though some think the progress has been slow, we are on a clear path to meet the goal of a new library starting as early as 2016. The county is ready to do the study. The county has a commitment for $2.2 million a year for the next five years for capital projects from the present library revenues.

To start from the beginning will not serve the residents of Bonita Springs now or in the future and put the reality of a new library farther down the road.

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