Friday, July 19, 2013

Death By A Thousand Cuts, Well Not a Death But a Serious Wound To Public Service

Normally I've got another blog to talk about librarianship.  But this topic is more about politics than libraries, and besides this is the blog where I use curse words more often and after hearing this I'm in dire need of dropping some F-bombs:

Miami-Dade County commission just voted to NOT raise the county millage rates in order to keep their county libraries and firefighter stations properly funded.  They'll be closing out 22 out of 49 branches as well as a small number of fire stations, and cutting 251 employees from the library system while cutting back on everyone else's hours.

The cuts are the result of a $15 million library budget shortfall. (The system had been using leftover funds to bridge the gap for the past two years.) Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez recommended the budget which necessitates the cuts, as well as which cuts should be made, to the county commissioners, who approved his recommendation on July 16.Once the commissioners set the preliminary rate, it can be lowered but not raised. Throughout August, there will be six town hall meetings to explain the proposed budget to residents and receive feedback. On September 10 and September 16, there will be budget hearings. The commissioners will vote on the budget at the September 16 meeting, and it will take effect on October 1.But though the millage can’t be raised, Raymond Santiago, director of the Miami-Dade Public Library System and LJ’s 2003 Librarian of the Year, hasn’t given up on mitigating the worst of the impacts. He called the cuts presented to the commissioners and detailed above “a worst-case scenario,” and “probably the most drastic of all the options.”“Before the final budget vote in September,” Santiago continued, “the administration will continue to investigate options to reduce these negative impacts” through different adjustments to the library budget. “We’re looking at everything right now,” he said.

This county commission are pretty much the jokers who voted HOW MUCH in order to build a bullshit overpriced gaudy and unfilled baseball stadium for a morally bankrupt killer of baseball franchises - I dare you to say Loria's name in public anywhere in Canada, I dares ya - who as a businessman could have figured out a hundred other ways to raise his own goddamn money to build his own goddamn park.

The city/county mayor Gimenez is quoted in the article as saying "people have said that the age of the library is probably ending." I call bullshit on that, mayor (the Library Journal article I've linked to shows stats that library use has gone UP).  Which people?  'Cause there's a lot of people where I am - and where I've been at other public libraries as well - that come in to use libraries all the time.  People are still checking out books.  They're coming in to use library computers because libraries are now telecommunication hubs and workplaces.  I've got people coming in all the time needing help with logging into their unemployment benefits and online job hunts and typing up their resumes and downloading their medical records to get their HMOs to approve coverage.  Anybody who thinks libraries are ending hasn't been paying attention.

And speaking of all those people who come in to use libraries.  WHERE THE HELL DO THEY GO NOW?  There may be half of the county libraries still open, but they'll now be packed solid with people desperate to get onto computers - not everyone's got a laptop at home, Mister Mayor - and unable to find worktables to get any projects done.  I did the math of 49 branches to 2.5 million county residents, I got it roughly 52,000 people per branch.  With 22 branches closing, that 1.4 million residents suddenly put out without library access.  It will take them that much more effort to get to a library that's further away - not everyone's got a car, Mister Mayor, and buses get expensive too - and they'll be competing with that many more people to get onto a computer.

I worked in Broward County Libraries between 1994 to 2003.  We're right next door, county-wise, and we had a lot of traffic and usage of our resources, a lot of checkouts and a lot of people waiting their turn to use computers.  I can imagine Dade's libraries were just as busy.  I was there when we had a county referendum to vote for a bond issue in 1998, which involved a small tax increase.  We were expecting a close vote.  We got 72 percent approval, an unbelievable result, and it was because people in Broward liked their community libraries and wanted us to improve our services to them.

What the county commission did this week was unforgivable, unwarranted.  If they were having problems raising funds for libraries and fire stations, they should have done what Broward County did back in 1998: let the people vote on it.  Instead, they're cutting services rather than dare the ire of... lord, there's no sign of anyone even yelling at them to cut spending or even yelling about the taxes going up too high.  Why the hell did they do this?!

Here's a solution: sue Loria and Major League Baseball for that $500 million back for an unfilled baseball stadium.  Maybe when he's on the hook for it, Loria might actually spend his own money and field a fucking team in order to fill his goddamned empty seats.  That $500 million could easily pay for the county libraries, the county fire stations, the county police, and about twenty other social services a large metro like Miami have need for.  It's a far better solution than closing half of everything and forcing a ton of low-income families and retirees to suffer.

GOD.  Our political priorities are screwed, aren't they?  Our cities and counties and states and federal government are giving out millions to a handful of men who already have millions while the rest of us have to fight for table scraps.  At what point do we stop this bullshit?

In the meantime, call the Miami Dade County Commission's office (phone 305-375-4696).  Let them know that cutting back on library and firefighter services is a bad f-cking idea (don't say "fuck", but be very stern and concerned sounding) and if you're a county resident remind them that you can very easily vote them out like the idiots they are if they don't straighten up and do right by the citizenry.

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