Grassroots group delivers final petition to Supervisor of Elections

Grassroots group delivers final petition to Supervisor of Elections

Straw ballot next step towards referendum –

Volunteers and board members of Save Our Public Libraries Inc. and the Public Library Foundation delivered the final petition to the Supervisor of Elections on Jan. 21, in the first step toward a historical undertaking.

The validation of these petitions will lead to the first straw ballot in Jacksonville history. The Straw Ballot vote will occur on Tuesday, Aug. 26, and is the culmination of a petition drive that has gathered 25,932 signatures from registered voters.

Volunteers gather at the Office of the Supervisor of Elections on Jan. 21 to submit the final petition for the straw ballot for an independent library district

Volunteers gather at the Office of the Supervisor of Elections on Jan. 21 to submit the final petition for the straw ballot for an independent library district

“As a result of what we’re doing today – turning in enough petitions to cross the threshold of 25,000 – this goes on the Aug. 26 ballot. We have a couple of legislators who are introducing legislation to say if it passes they would put a real referendum creating this special tax district on the Nov. 4 ballot,” said Harry Reagan, president of the Friends of Jacksonville Public Library board of directors.

The Straw Ballot Petition requests Florida Legislature to afford Duval County voters the same opportunity that was previously accorded to the voters of Alachua County and Orange County to have a choice to establish an independent library district through voter referendum.

“Once an independent library district is set up it has a 1 mil property tax maximum that cannot be used for anything else. One mil raises about $45 million right now; the library budget is around $32 to 33 million, so there’s room for growth,” Reagan explained. “This is not a tax increase. At some point in the future, if needed, the people who govern this special tax district – the Mayor, three Council members and a School Board member – could decide it can be increased.”

This Save Our Public Libraries Inc., initiative was a community effort motivated by the JCCI Study Recommendation released in June 2012. The organization began collecting petitions at the end of 2012, finishing the effort a year later.

Reagan noted that “Although this solution will take a while, I’m really convinced it has already had a favorable impact. Because so many people were out there signing petitions, it communicated the message about how important the libraries are to the City Council last September when they were making decisions. And we did not close six libraries, we didn’t even close two libraries, we closed no libraries. And that’s in large part due to this petition campaign.”

When Bill Brinton, co-founder of Save Our Public Libraries, presented the final petition to Jerry Holland, Supervisor of Elections, he stated “Libraries are probably the most popular public service provided by government. Obviously police and fire are an absolute necessity, but libraries are loved around the world and here in Jacksonville. It’s fair to say that this community wants to have the best public library system in the nation as possible. Today we’re well on our way to accomplishing that objective.”

Volunteers with Save Our Libraries watch as Bill Brinton delivers the final petition for the independent library district straw ballot to Jerry Holland, Supervisor of Elections

Volunteers with Save Our Libraries watch as Bill Brinton delivers the final petition for the independent library district straw ballot to Jerry Holland, Supervisor of Elections

Sen. Audrey Gibson, of Florida Senate District 9, concurred. “The community has spoken. Now that we’ve passed the threshold, it puts the money, the funding, and control really, of libraries, into the hands of the people who know what they want and who should be the deciding factor in how libraries should be funded, when they are open and closed, and how it impacts their families’ quality of life and education of our children. I’m honored to be a part of this process,” she said.

In the meantime, Cheryl Williams, representative for Save Our Public Libraries, stressed the importance of staying vigilant about the issue. “Until then [the referendum], we still need to keep the conversation going because we don’t want to be reactive when the next budget comes around. We don’t want to be complacent and think ‘oh, we’re done’ and when the budget comes up again we’re back to closing libraries again.”

By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

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