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Vol. 13 No. 6 • July/August 1999
• Cover Story •
Friends and Foundation Join to Pass Bond Issue
by Donna Grubman

Editor’s Note: This article details how a Florida library system mounted a major fundraising and PR campaign to support a bond issue. The library was seeking public approval for over $100 million to renovate older libraries and to build new ones. Because of the length and depth necessary to tell this whole story, it will run in two consecutive issues of this newsletter.

Broward County sits on the east coast of South Florida between Miami and Palm Beach. Historically, most activity in Broward was related to tourism and winter residents. Businesses developed in support of recreation and resort facilities and the winter population. The significant cities were Hollywood, Pompano Beach, and Fort Lauderdale. In the 1970s, new major population centers were growing in the western part of the county, and it became clear that a county form of government was required to develop an infrastructure to address the problems inherent with unbridled growth. Broward County was chartered as county government in 1972.

At the time the county government was created, public library service was being provided by an assortment of city and volunteer libraries, with the growing unincorporated areas completely lacking access to free library service. Broward County Library was created in 1974 as the community was evolving from a beach resort to a business center and year-round home for families and people of all ages.

The philosophy driving the creation of the Broward County Library system was a commitment to providing equal access to service for all current and future residents of the county. As new technology was emerging for electronic catalogs, resource sharing through a countywide system became viable and cost effective. All city libraries were invited to join the new system and thereby be alleviated of the burden of funding their own library services. The Fort Lauderdale Library and its two branches and book trailer, plus the Hollywood Library, formed the basis of the county library system. Over the next several years many other city libraries joined the fledgling system. The county added two bookmobiles, opened the South Regional Library in an old supermarket in Hollywood, and opened the Tamarac Library in a shopping center. The book budget was very slim, and sharing resources countywide provided minimal service for all.

1978 Public Improvements Bond Issue
A major infusion of capital dollars was required to build adequate facilities countywide and to renovate old city libraries. As each of the city libraries joined the new system, they brought established Friends of the Library groups, bringing strong advocacy skills to the table. The new libraries followed by creating their own Friends of the Library support groups.

With the possibility of a bond issue on the horizon, the skill and passion for libraries demonstrated by the individual Friends groups had to be harnessed, so the Friends of Broward County Library was established with the goal of passing the bond issue for library construction as its primary focus. The president of each of the Friends groups served as a member of the Board of Directors of the Friends of Broward County Library, and there were several at-large members too. The Friends of Broward County Library worked diligently and effectively with library staff and a volunteer public relations company, Gary Bitner & Associates, in support of the 1978 bond issue.

This demonstrated need led to the passage of the 1978 Public Improvements Bond Issue for Libraries. As a result, 12 libraries were built and renovated throughout Broward County, including the Main Library, two regionals, and nine branch libraries. With the construction phase completed, efforts were directed at expanding the materials budget.

Broward Public Library Foundation
The Broward Public Library Foundation was created in 1984 to help raise private dollars for library materials and enhancements. In addition to raising money for the growing library system, the foundation created public interest in support of the county library. In 1985 the materials budget was raised to $4 million, and a formula including a yearly inflation factor was instituted to help keep the materials budget responsive to both use and economic factors.

With the opening of the Main Library, the increase in the materials budget, and the establishment of the Broward Public Library Foundation, Broward County Library had moved from playing catch-up to being an institution that was constructing fine buildings, collections, and state-of-the-art technological infrastructures. In fact, in 1996 Broward County Library was voted “Library of the Year” by Library Journal and Gale Research Company (now The Gale Group) for innovative partnerships and programs.

The population explosion of the ’70s has still not diminished in the ’90s. The Broward County Board of County Commissioners has been extremely supportive of the library system, referring to it as the most popular service the county offers. New libraries have been funded at a rate of one per year, and we’ve gotten significant funding for technology upgrades.

Second Bond Issue Raised for Expansion
At the budget hearing in August of 1997, when communities were openly fighting for new libraries (for brand new areas with no library service) and for expanded libraries (in areas where the use far overwhelmed existing resources), the concept of a second library bond issue was born.

The commission chairperson suggested recruiting a library consultant to objectively examine the need for library services in Broward and to present a plan to meet that need expeditiously. If the plan supported the need for another bond issue referendum for libraries, the Board of County Commissioners would seriously consider that option as a vehicle for accelerating the construction of libraries. In a rare instance of solidarity, the board agreed to this proposal.

The process for hiring a consultant is rather cumbersome; however, Providence Associates, Inc. (a highly respected library consulting company) was eventually selected. A year had passed by the time the consultant was hired and the report was delivered to the board. In the interim, the demand for services continued to escalate.

The consultant’s report recommended the establishment of two additional regional libraries and several new branches, plus the renovation and expansion of several branches and the refurbishment of the entire system. The report recommended the construction of 40,000-square-foot community libraries, serving as both libraries and community centers. The report recommended that regional libraries be planned as 72,000-square-foot facilities. The estimated cost, excluding property, was $250 million. The report suggested that it would take 20 years to complete all three phases of the plan as presented. This plan was presented as “the ideal,” offering solutions for today and flexibility and space for tomorrow.

The number of projects recommended for construction, replacement, or renovation and the cost alarmed both the staff and the board. A price tag in the neighborhood of $100 million and a shorter turnaround time had been anticipated.

The staff and the Library Advisory Board reviewed the plan and the priorities in great detail and presented a staff report to the director and the board. The staff examined the functions of community libraries, including community meeting rooms, exhibit and display space, and special children’s programming rooms, and could not justify a 40,000-square-foot community branch unless the project had a partner. The staff recommended constructing the community libraries at 30,000 square feet.

In some instances the staff concluded that it was not practical to replace existing city libraries even though they were inadequate facilities, and they recommended renovations and retooling as a far-less-expensive alternative. However, the staff did concur with the consultant’s recommendation to replace four very small former city libraries with two 20,000-square-foot neighborhood libraries. Although the staff recommended this consolidation and expansion and included the cost in the bond issue recommendation, ultimately provincialism prevailed and the county agreed to build 10,000-square-foot libraries in each of the four communities to solidify support for the initiative.

The staff report, built on the excellent concepts provided by the consultant, trimmed the cost of the project to a much more palatable $139.9 million price tag, including debt service (the cost of selling the bonds to the public) and anticipated inflationary factors. The actual cost of debt service and inflation was estimated at $19 million, with $120.9 million actually budgeted for library construction, expansion, and renovation. (Bonds are sold as the project progresses, therefore the entire debt service and inflationary factors are realized incrementally.) The budget office estimated that the cost of bonds when the project was fully completed would be $10 a year for each $100,00 of property assessment. This more realistic plan could be delivered within 7 years.

The report was presented to the board, which proceeded to ask some very difficult questions of the library staff and the budget office, and to look at other options for building libraries. One of the commissioners raised the possibility of inviting developers to erect the new buildings and to lease them back to the county. This proposal was short-lived, primarily because the Broward County Board of County Commissioners is opposed to leasing properties with implications for long-term debt and no equity. Another commissioner was concerned about the size of the proposed facilities, considering the current reliance on the Internet. This question had been asked before, in terms of the role of the library and the possibility of public libraries being replaced by Internet access (or maybe we should say excess). The staff reiterated the importance of the literature collection, the space required, the training involved in the use of the Internet and electronic databases, and the importance of the library as a community center. The questions were answered to the satisfaction of the commissioners; however, there was a sense of backpedaling and a reluctance to make a commitment to allow the public to make the decision through a vote.

Our original goal was to have the library bond issue initiative on the November 1998 ballot for the general election. But as repeated discussions and reports were required, the summer months that we had intended to use for planning a fall campaign were slipping away. We agreed with trepidation that a new target date of March 1999 would be more realistic. We were all concerned about the difficulties inherent in a mid-year election; however, we were reluctant to postpone the initiative until the following November because the repeated delays were causing the plan to lose its sense of urgency.

Demonstration of Community Support
All of the Broward County Library satellite groups were lined up in support of the bond issue initiative. At this point it became clear that citizens needed to take a more active stance to move this forward. Visits to commissioners revealed that while they supported library expansion, they wanted assurance that there was enough community interest and support to pass the library bond issue. In November of the previous year, a referendum for a one-cent sales tax to build schools had failed abysmally. The board did not want to be associated with another failed tax.

The foundation agreed to fund an objective study to evaluate public support for a bond issue for library expansion. It hired highly respected political pollster Jim Kane to conduct a survey and focus groups at a cost of $10,000. In addition, Kane served on our bond issue committee as “political guru.”

Kane maintains databases of all registered voters and the frequency of their voting. “Supervoters” are individuals who vote in both November and March elections. For our survey, Kane surveyed the opinions of the supervoters, because they can be relied upon to vote in mid-year elections. In all, 450 men and women were surveyed by telephone, and 20 individuals participated in the focus group. In both cases the participants were both Democrats and Republicans, living in communities throughout the county. The age of the participants ranged from middle-age to seniors. (Supervoters tend to be older.) They were not aware of the issue being surveyed—the library bond issue component was imbedded in a broader discussion of the quality of life in Broward County.

The survey indicated that, generally, the public was highly satisfied with library service. Fifty-two percent of those contacted indicated they would vote “yes” on a bond issue for libraries in the neighborhood of $100 million. When they learned that the bonds would only cost $10 per average household, the “yes” vote escalated to 56 percent. The focus groups indicated a high level of satisfaction with the current level of service and recognized a need for expansion and maintenance to maintain high-quality service levels.

With this powerful information in hand, the Friends and the Foundation were determined to demonstrate the depth of community support for the bond issue to the commission at the workshop scheduled for November 3.

Editor’s Note: Will the bond issue pass? Tune in to the September issue for the end of the story.

Donna Grubman recently retired from her job as the associate director for library development for the Broward County Library in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. She has a graduate degree in library science from the University of South Florida in Tampa. In 1985 she was selected as “Woman of the Year in Communications” by the Florida-Atlantic Chapter of Women in Communications. During Grubman’s long career in library management and marketing, her library received numerous John Cotton Dana Awards for library public relations and NACO (National Association of County Organizations) awards for publications and programs.

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