Dark Days for Miami-Dade

1150288_294707040672418_1932481084_nAs a recent transplant from Florida back to my motherland, New Jersey, I’ve been keeping up with what’s happening with the Miami-Dade Public Library System. This system was my place of employment for four years, where I started as a volunteer, moved on to page, library intern, and eventually librarian. I’ve got a lot of fond memories of my interesting (and slightly, um, eccentric) coworkers and patrons; which is why it’s been really horrifying to see what’s happening down there right now.

In a very tiny nutshell, because the library system gets it’s funding mostly from tax revenue, and because taxes have not been increased in about a billion years in Miami, there has been heavy usage of the library reserve funds to cover costs. These reserve funds were also sometimes diverted to other county organizations, as well. This has left the system with practically nothing to go on.

Last year, voters agreed to slightly increase taxes in 2013 in order to throw some money at some pretty worthwhile causes, including the library, the fire department, and animal services.  This 5.37% increase works out to almost $25/household….for the entire year. There was much rejoicing and I actually thought the government was doing something right for a change.

AND THEN, Mayor Carlos Gimenez and the board of county commissioners decided that they were going to take too much heat for the increase, and in a pretty short-sighted maneuver, decided NOT to increase taxes. They just decided it. Like that.

Bottom line: the system will have to downsize in a major way, meaning layoffs and the closing of library locations.

Now, being as how Miami-Dade relies on the public libraries in a BIG way (they provide dozens of services like online access, programs, heck, even meeting spaces for public officials like, ahem, the commissioners) there was a pretty strong public backlash to Mayor Gimenez’s decision to close 22 of the 49 library locations and lay off employees.  This might have also been because the majority of the branches that were going to close were in poor areas; you know, the places where people need libraries the most, but don’t exactly look the prettiest on a press packet.

So what was Mayor Gimenez’s solution? To not close any libraries….but still lay off more than 150 workers. Meaning service is going to take a GIANT hit; meaning library branches will be opening and closing at ridiculous hours (some branches at 16 hours a week…..seriously, 16 hours for a WEEK); meaning programs for kids, teens and adults are going to suffer; meaning the already anorexic budget for new books and materials will get even leaner; meaning you are going to have some tremendously over-worked staff trying desperately to do the job of two or more people, and getting completely burnt out.

And this is all because a small group of people decided that Miami-Dade tax-payers simply cannot afford a slight tax increase….even though it has not been increased for years and years and years. (And even though spending on other let’s say, impractical, things like a new baseball stadium don’t seem to hit too much of a roadblock, ever.)

I’m still hoping that something good can come from this situation, although what that may be, I have no idea. From what I’ve heard, lots of co-workers are already looking into other avenues of employment; can you really blame them? What competent, educated staff would be willing to stay with a system (and government) that seems intent on working them to the bone and then hauling out the threat of layoffs every single budget year?

So so sad.

For more coverage of a dark situation, check out the Save the Miami-Dade Public Libraries page on Facebook.