By: Robin Ford Wallace, Reporter
In last week’s primary election – and in the wake of the Dade County Board of Education’s abrupt dumping of all financial support for the local public library, along with the impassioned public protest that accompanied it – Dade voters answered a resounding yes to a straw poll question asking if a portion of the county millage rate should go toward supporting the library.
The 2,354 yes- and 956 no-votes did not represent so much 70-percent-“fer” and 30-percet-“agin’,” as it did a 70-20 split, said library board member Eddie Pittman, because the remaining roughly 10 percent of voters who showed up for the primary didn’t answer the question at all.
Now Pittman and his fellow library supporters hope the Dade County Commission will take the big yes vote as a mandate to grant the library that source of secure funding. “We want to do what’s proper, we want to do what’s correct, and we don’t want to take more than we need,” said library champion Donna Street.
She said the county attorney was looking into the matter and would meet with her shortly with his findings. “I think, and he thinks, that the commission has the authority to handle this, if they will do it,” she said.
But will they? At a Friday interview, Dade County Executive and Commission Chairman Ted Rumley did not seem overly eager to jump aboard. He said some citizens were already giving him an earful about even the hint of a tax hike. “They want to fund it, but they don’t want to raise the millage rate,” he said.
And he said an increase would be in the stars if any portion of the millage rate were to be redirected: the commissioners had sweated blood to pay for essential services with revenues as they stood. “Now, if they want to tell us what services they want us to cut, that’s fine,” he said.
The Sentinel asked Tax Commissioner Jane Moreland how much some proposed millage percentages to fund the library would cost the average property owner. She answered that raising the millage rate one-quarter of a point, as some have suggested, would generate $75,000 to $80,000 a year for the library and raise taxes $9.50 on the average $100,000 house.
A half-mill hike would bring the library $150,000-160,000 and raise the taxpayer’s bill $19 on the same house.
The Dade Board of Education, which has autonomous tax-levying authority and does not answer to Rumley, hiked its millage rate 1.02 points for 2013, an increase Schools Superintendent Shawn Tobin said would raise yearly taxes $50.60 for a $125,000 home.
At three public hearings held by the school board, not one citizen showed up to protest the millage increase. All attendees – and there were hundreds – had come to support the library.
But Chairman Rumley said the public would not be so tolerant if the county commission raised its own millage rate. “That place would be full,” he said. “They would be lined up outside.”
For now, though, library supporters must take his word for it: The commission has scheduled no public hearings on the matter.