Two Sarasota County libraries to open on Sundays beginning in January 2020, in launch of pilot program

Staff to work on how to cover approximate $232,000 expense through September 2020

Sarabeth Kalajian is director of the Libraries and Historical Resources Department. Photo courtesy Sarasota County

In response to public pleas, the Sarasota County Commission this week unanimously authorized county administrative staff to plan on approximately $232,000 in the 2020 fiscal year budget to open two libraries on Sundays, beginning in January 2020.

Most likely, based on the June 18 discussion, those libraries will be Selby in downtown Sarasota and Jacaranda in Venice.

The goal, Chair Charles Hines said, is to assist both people whose work hours during the week prevent them from accessing library services and students who do not have home internet service. Libraries have other resources that many students need, as well, Hines indicated.

“This is just such a huge quality-of-life issue for me,” Commissioner Michael Moran said.

Although the commissioners indicated support for continuing the Sunday hours through the end of the 2020 fiscal year — which would be Sept. 30, 2020 — Hines suggested staff provide updates to the board after the first three months and then again at the six-month mark. That way, the commissioners could determine whether their assumptions about the majority of users “are correct,” he said.

If the resulting statistics prove that his expectation about the Sunday patrons is inaccurate, Hines continued, then he will want details about the actual users. Moreover, he said, he would want suggestions about when workers and students would come to the libraries. For example, he pointed out, if more of the people needing Sunday library services would prefer a later closing time than 8 p.m. — as proposed — “That needs to be part of this conversation.”

Commissioner Nancy Detert cautioned her colleagues that they would be kidding themselves if they launched the pilot program with the feeling that it might not prove successful. “I never had anybody come back and say, ‘Oh, my project’s a complete failure and needs to end,’” she added.

The funding questions

Following discussion during their May 17 budget workshop, the commissioners asked staff to research the potential expense of a Sunday pilot program for two libraries. For an entire fiscal year, County Administrator Jonathan Lewis pointed out on June 18, the cost would be about $310,000. However, he continued, if the board members were interested in the pilot program, Sarabeth Kalajian, director of the Libraries and Historical Resources Department, had recommended that they begin it at the start of 2020, “to make sure we do it right, so you have the information you need.”

In making the motion to allow staff to proceed with the planning, Detert called for details of the proposal to be presented to the board in the future.

A chart shows details about the projected expenses for opening two libraries on Sundays for a full fiscal year. Image courtesy Sarasota County

When Commissioner Alan Maio asked whether the county could use library impact fees to pay for the trial program, Lewis told him, “I think we would have a very, very difficult time with that,” as state law prohibits allocating impact fee revenue for operating expenses. The money has to be used for infrastructure construction or improvements, Deputy County Administrator Steve Botelho pointed out.

“I know you can find $150,000 to $200,000 [for six months], Hines told Lewis, “to give this a shot …”

Detert suggested that county staff might be able to pay for the program out of the extra property tax revenue the county typically collects — above the 95% level that the state allows staff to use for budgeting purposes.

Hines further noted comments Sarasota County Property Appraiser William Furst made during his budget presentation that day in regard to sales tax revenue state employees mistakenly sent to Manatee County. About $1 million of that will come back to Sarasota County in the 2020 fiscal year, Hines pointed out, noting that staff has not plugged those funds into the proposed FY20 budget.

(Florida Department of Revenue staff mistakenly identified some businesses in the University Parkway area as being in Manatee County instead of Sarasota County.)

A graphic shows details about library patrons’ visits to the county facilities. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Commissioner Moran also asked Lewis how much the county is spending annually on the operations of the Regional Traffic Management Center in Bradenton, which staff discussed last month when Moran was absent.

That annual expense is about $260,000, Lewis replied, and it comes out of the county’s most constrained account, Lewis added — the General Fund, which is made up largely of property tax revenue.

(Moran has argued for the county’s withdrawal from the consortium that supports the Regional Traffic Management Center, saying he does not believe the facility provides sufficient benefits to Sarasota County drivers. On May 21, the commissioners told staff to research issues related to the county’s collaboration with the Manatee County Commission, the Florida Department of Transportation and municipalities in Sarasota and Manatee counties on that facility’s operations, with an eye toward potentially pulling out of the group.)

The specific facilities and their services

Selby Library is located at Five Points in downtown Sarasota. File photo

In the past, Kalajian explained on June 18, staff opened one library in North County and one in South County on Sundays. Selby Library, in downtown Sarasota, has “the biggest capacity” among North County facilities, she added, while the Jacaranda Library in Venice “is geographically positioned in a pretty stood spot for folks from North Port and Englewood to get to.”

The Frances T. Bourne Jacaranda Library is located at 4143 Woodmere Park Blvd. in Venice.

“I’m fine with your recommendation,” Hines responded about her proposal for those facilities to be the sites of the pilot program.

Three-dimensional printing may be pursued at the Creation Stations in the Sarasota County public libraries. Image courtesy Sarasota County

When Detert asked which two libraries in the county system are the busiest, Kalajian replied that Gulf Gate and the Fruitville libraries are No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in terms of number of items circulated. However, Kalajian continued, Selby has the highest count of people who come through the door.

In fact, Kalajian added, “There is a line at every single one of our libraries first thing in the morning.”

When Moran asked Kalajian how many Sundays she would plan on having the two libraries open, she replied that the proposal is for every Sunday. “There’s really a value in a consistent schedule, so people know when their library’s open.”

Additionally, she continued, “We would put a highlight on [the] Creation Stations and have activities to draw people of all ages [on Sundays].”

The Creation Stations, she reminded the commissioners earlier this year, allow people to pursue a variety of initiatives, including 3D printing and sewing. She noted that her staff members have been seeing “kind of a natural multicultural, multi-generational sharing of learning in that environment. That’s exciting to us.” And that is why, she said, that she would want to allow the public to use the Creation Stations on Sundays.

Commissioner Christian Ziegler also talked of the number of people who no longer work in offices but instead use their own laptop computers to do their jobs — often in libraries, thanks to the facilities’ Wi-Fi access. He called that Wi-Fi “a very good resource” for such workers.

Ziegler then asked that Kalajian work with county Enterprise Information Technology staff to ensure the interim reports on the pilot program include data about the users and devices “attaching to the Wi-Fi.”