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For Flagler Library Trustees, Hopes that County Government Gets Past “Spinning Our Wheels”

| April 3, 2017

flagler county public library

Beloved, but underfunded. (© FlaglerLive)

Jim Ulsamer, chairman of the Flagler County Public Library Board of Trustees, likes to get to the point, at times provocatively so, whatever he’s advocating for. He’s been advocating for the public library for years, and for various reasons—some out of the country’s control, some not—he hasn’t seen much movement on certain priorities.


“Taxpayers are certainly getting their money’s worth for the modest amount that is spent on library services in this county. But on the other hand it also says that our library service can be much improved by making some of the changes that we’re taking about doing,” Ulsamer told the County Commission this morning in the context of an annual report.

Three of the five commissioners are new, so he briefed them on long-standing discussions—but stalled plans–about expanding the current  main branch library, building a new one in Bunnell, and even possibly adding a branch of sorts in the Hammock (Ulsamer’s neighborhood).

“We’re developing a plan, we need to finish it off and recognize it as an official plan and stop living hand to mouth, the way we’ve been doing,” Ulsamer told commissioners. “Somebody could come to this county and say what’s the future library service going to be in Flagler County through the year 2030, let’s say. We should be able to spell that out very succinctly to them.”

Right now that vision is hazy, as Charlie Ericksen, who’s been on the commission just over four years, acknowledged.

 “How many people we get to come up here from Volusia and St. Johns?” he asked. “We’ve got customers that come in from other counties just like they do for our clerk operations here because we do such a good job. I would agree, we’ve got to come up with a  better than a foggy plan as to what’s going to go on with a new library and getting those services out there.”

But Ericksen was also unwittingly arguing against some of the points that Ulsamer had just made: that Flagler’s library system is woefully underfunded compared to St. Johns and Volusia counties. The figures show to what extent.

jim ulsamer

Jim Ulsamer. (© FlaglerLive)

Per-capita funding in Flagler, in state aid, is only $11.52. It’s almost double that in St. Johns ($19.18) and Volusia ($18.30), close to Putnam’s poverty-level rate of $6.48. Local dollars’ per-capital spending isn’t much better. The housing collapse added its share of budgetary problems. Budget cuts affected employees and materials. Putnam County has five library facilities, St. Johns has six, with a seventh on its way, Volusia has 14. Flagler has one main branch and another branch that’s about 10 percent its size, in Bunnell. The library system has the equivalent of just over 18 full time employees. State standards recommend 60 employees, according to Ulsamer (who concedes the figure leans more toward advocacy than realistic local need.)

The population of Flagler-Palm Coast has more than doubled (to around 105,000) since the main library opened on Palm Coast Parkway in 2000. But the growth hurt the county as its state-aid funding formula’s recalculation shaved off 20 percent of its dollars.

One bright spot: Library Director Holly Albanese making the library a place where any citizen may apply for a U.S. passport. “Since its inception, we’ve generated $504,000 in revenue,” Ulsamer said. “Your other option was to go to the Bunnell Post Office, have a post office experience, or you could come to the library, set an appointment even, if need be, apply for your passport, get your passport photo taken, very pleasant experience.”

The recovery began in earnest in 2013, the roof was repaired, carpeting and floor coverings were replaced. But the larger plans have been talked about more than even designed. The library hasn’t even been able to get the county to address a lingering parking issue at the main branch, or improve the bathrooms.

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“We believe now is the time to look to the future. We’ve been sort of in a maintenance mode, sort of spinning our wheels for the last 10 years,” Ulsamer said. “So we have a couple of initiatives that are in the works. One is a branch in the southern part of the county, not far from here. A site has been identified. The design spec has been budgeted. We understand that there’s a potential land swap in the offing that could provide some benefits for the county, and hopefully for the library.” That new branch library would re[place Bunnell’s, and would rise on land nearly adjacent to the current Emergency Operations Center, not far from the Government Services Building.

A mystery donor is willing to give $1 million for the expansion of the main branch library. That offer is still active, but “there’s a lot of caveats to those funds,” County Administrator Craig Coffey said, recommending another workshop with the commission to explain it all. The library director, Holly Albanese, also applied for a $500,000 construction state grant, with Flagler in good position to get the money, assuming the Legislature appropriates the money.

But if Ulsamer was hoping to hear some clear perspectives, or even questions, from the commission, as he suggested at the outset of his presentation, he was disappointed: commissioners asked only a couple of general questions, and Ulsamer’s idea, for the very long term, of a small library branch in the Hammock took on a different sort of life when Commission Chairman Nate McLaughlin seized on it: McLaughlin sees it as a replacement, for now anyway, for any expansion of the main library.

 “Rather than expand the current, maybe find something in the Hammock, to do up there?” McLaughlin said. He asked the library trustees to look into it—a location, an idea, maybe even build something on a property the county already owns. “Maybe at this point money spent there rather than expanding the one we have,” he said. “That needs to be vetted, I think.”

Terry Jones, who heads the Friends of the Library organization, was quick to realign priorities, at least as far as the Friends see them: The main branch’s expansion first, the new Bunnell facility second, and only then, an expansion in the Hammock.

The presentations were made ahead of National Library Week, April 9-15 (first celebrated in 1958).

Jim Ulsamer’s Annual Report on the Flagler County Library System (2017)

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8 Responses for “For Flagler Library Trustees, Hopes that County Government Gets Past “Spinning Our Wheels””

  1. Jan says:

    I am on the Board of Trustees of the Flagler County Library. Thanks to Jim Ulsamer for his leadership as the Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Flagler County Library (the Board is an all-volunteer group).

    Holly Albanese does an incredible job as the Director, is a tireless advocate for our residents, is forward-thinking, and is a creative fund-raiser.
    s
    Terry Jones and the Friend of the Library is another volunteer group that does outstanding work.

    Let’s make 2017 the year that Library can truly look to the future.

  2. Lazaruis says:

    When I first moved here 2 years ago I went to the local flagler beach library and asked to be a volunteer.
    The lady behind the desk said that they did not use volunteers. I have always wanted to work in a library and after retiring I thought I would make myself useful but to no avail.
    STILL REMEMBER THAT BOOKS ARE YOUR FRIENDS !!
    even if librarians aren’t.

  3. Flagler Citizen says:

    I’d love to see the library branch out. The library serves an important function in the community. It was the disaster aid hot-spot in the wake of the hurricane. People can use the Internet for school or job hunting. People can find free entertainment. It’s a place to hold open, public meetings. The county is growing in different directions, and access to this type of service becomes more difficult as populations increase and traffic becomes more congested. The main branch is surrounded by a good population density and therefore warrants an expansion. I love the priority segments: expansion, Bunnell, then Hammock.

    I’ve been in favor of closing Bunnell branch and building an adequate library (convenient to Bunnell and parts of Palm Coast nearby) since before they even mentioned doing this. The proposed location would be convenient to southern Palm Coasters, Bunnell residents, and south western unincorporated residents.

  4. Monica Campana says:

    Wow! A branch in the hammock! Welcome, welcome, welcome! I may never cross the bridge again.
    Seriously though – a community that values libraries is a community people of all ages want to live in. Meanwhile an FYI for hammockians who like to read and share books – a retired school librarian is at the Adult Ed building every Thursday from 9-4 in Room 105 manning a bring 1, take 1 book exchange. Stop by and like us on facebook at A1A Book Exchange.

  5. Brad W says:

    I think the biggest misconception is that technology replaced books. That ebooks and Google have made Libraries obsolete, but that is not the reality. Libraries are still an important public service. Where I think our Library system has opportunity here is engaging the community. They have to focus on telling the story of our local library and create real fans and advocates. It’s kind of been a “save the library just because” kind of thing in my opinion. There is a ton to share and get out in front of the community in terms of book suggestions, personal testimonials with reading, partnering with the historical societies and telling the history of the area within sections of the library, so forth and so on. St Johns County deos a great job on that front and working to be out in front of the community going out and engaging with it rather than waiting for the community to come to it.

  6. Jan says:

    Lazaruis,

    If you ask for the Library Director, Holly Albanese, and/or ask for the head of Friends of the Library Terry Jones, they will find a place for your skills, and will be very grateful.

    Here’s a link that could be helpful to you: http://www.flaglerlibraryfriend.com/friends/friends2.htm
    It lists some of the things volunteers do for the Library.

  7. Shannon I says:

    Lazaruis,

    I see Jan responded. I want to let you know that Flagler Beach Library is not associated with the Flagler County Library system. Come to the Flagler County Library on Palm Coast Pkwy and fill out an application. We love our volunteers here. Have a good day.

  8. Jan Reeger says:

    Jack Clegg, who was a very significant part of Flagler County history, donated his home with hopes it would be used as a Library. But, for over 11 years, it has sadly been allowed to just sit and deteriorate. It is surrounded by other County owned land across from Bunnell Elementary at the NE corner of Palmetto and Howe. I wish this property could be used for something special.

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