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Citing “Sorry State of Affairs,” Sullen Flagler Library Board Asking for a New Tax to Survive

| January 14, 2013

Diminishing returns. (© FlaglerLive)

Diminishing returns. (© FlaglerLive)

When Jim Ulsamer, who chairs the Flagler County Library Board of Trustees, appears before the county commission this evening, he’ll deliver an annual report unlike any he’s delivered before. It’ll be sullen and frustrated in tone, and at times directly critical of the commission for too stingily supporting the library over the past few years.

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Ulsamer’s annual report culminates in a proposal that goes to the heart of the commission’s inattention: since funding has been short and the commission appears unwilling to make up the difference, the library board is asking for a special taxing district “or some other more stable funding mechanism to operate the library and provide for future capital needs.” Ulsamer is asking the commission to “take up this matter and to act on it without undue delay.” (The complete text of the report is below.)

The Friends of the Library meanwhile, on whose volunteer ranks the library depends a great deal to run smoothly—and pick up the slack where staffing is short—are themselves mobilizing to fill seats before commissioners and send their own message. They’ll all be wearing green shirts when the commission convenes at the Government Services Building at 5 Monday evening.

“For a community our size, the library has pretty much hit rock bottom in what we are providing and can continue to provide based on the current budget and staffing,” Terry Jones, president of the Friends of the Library, wrote the 700-strong membership. “Without some considerable changes and additional financial support from the BOCC, we may be looking at a diminishing Library that could easily find its doors closed in a few years.” BOCC is the acronym for the Board of County Commissioners. “Sounds pretty drastic and dire, doesn’t it? Well, it is,” Jones continued.

“We’ve been told that none of the commissioners have received any complaints about the shorter hours, lack of staff or clean facility. Well, this is your chance to let them know you will be heard,” Jones added.

After Ulsamer presented his report, commissioners had few specific ideas on how to ensure that next year’s report won’t be as dire. But at Commissioner George Hanns’s request, the commission will hold a workshop to address library matters specifically.

Jim Ulsamer. (© FlaglerLive)

Jim Ulsamer. (© FlaglerLive)

In his prepared remarks to the board, which have been approved by the trustees since early November, Ulsamer begins by warning commissioners that “this year’s report conveys a different message and tone than those of recent years. That is because this board believes the library has now reached a tipping point and a new approach and commitment needs to be adopted in order to provide quality library service to the residents of this county.”

An essential difference in library operations: The library budget five years ago was $1.5 million. Today, it’s $900,000. A third of the reduction is attributable to the reduction in state funding. The rest was the county commission’s choice. And it took place in a county that has historically treated its library system as a footnote. St. Johns County (whose schools consistently lead the state in quality) spends $25 per resident per year on its library system. Volusia County spends $38.

Flagler County spends just $9.

Year after year, Ulsamer says, the library system has fallen short of state standards for basic, minimum services regarding physical space, staffing, overall budget, computer access, materials budget and hours of operation. Sunday hours have been eliminated entirely. Beginning in October, hours were further cut back on Tuesday and Thursday evening.

“Over the past 5 years, as tax revenue shortfalls caused the library budget to be cut year after year, the staff did its best to maintain service levels,” Ulsamer says. “But now it’s gone too far.”

The library board had pressed the commission to close the Bunnell branch library in previous years, rather than erode services at the main branch. “For reasons that were political and perhaps socioeconomic in nature, that option was taken off the table,” Ulsamer say. He then outlines “a partial list of items that indicate the library is in a sorry state of affairs.”

Some 50 to 75 patrons wait for the opportunity to borrow a new release, for example, though that’s not necessarily unusual, depending on the title in question: in June, the library had five copies of “Fifty Shades of Gray,” the dismally written but hugely popular sadomasochist-porn novel by E.L. James,  with a combined 103 reserves. It had three copies of “Fifty Shades Darker” with 19 reserves, and three copies of “Fifty Shades Freed,” with just four reserves.

“The library roof has leaked for several years, but the county seems to be content with letting it go indefinitely, even though we are located in a hurricane prone state,” Ulsamer’s report goes on. (The county administrator said the roof is scheduled for replacement in the 2014 fiscal year.) The absence of library services in the Hammock is noted, ostensibly in contradiction with the board’s recommendation that the Bunnell branch be closed, though Ulsamer’s  report explains why: the Hammock is “the source of a generous portion of the county’s tax revenue.” (It is also, however, where households are less likely to be without an internet connection or easier access to books and DVD’s on their own.)

The report also warns that Library Director Holly Albanese “is arguably underpaid, which puts us at risk of losing a highly qualified, well respected professional.” Albanese’s $70,000 base salary is similar to that of Georgia Turner, the relatively new director of tourism for the county.

Ulsamer sums up with unveiled finger-wagging: “Most of the above problems can be attributed to the relentless reduction in financial support for the library. This has to stop. The county cannot continue to put its hand in the cookie jar every time it needs some dollars. The Friends and volunteers have had their collective finger in the dyke for too long and it is not a long term remedy.”

Previous annual reports had focused on relatively positive achievements, planned construction or improvements, revenue innovations (such as the lucrative passport station Albanese created, which generated $46,000 in 2012). The reports also outlined hard numbers showing library usage.

Those numbers are absent from this year’s report, at least in the form submitted ahead of time to county commissioners. Some of the numbers show significant declines in library use in the period affected most by declining revenue.

In 2009, for example, the library circulated 514,124 items. In 2012, it circulated 447,450, a 13 percent decline.

In 2009, the library provided services to 487,707 people who visited the library. In 2012, it provided services to 337,659 people, a staggering decline of 150,000 people, or 31 percent.

Even public internet work station sessions have declined, from 75,203 in 2009 to 68,393 in 2012, a 9 percent decline. But that decline doesn’t take into account the number of users who take advantage of the library’s wireless access: many a patron comes to the library with a laptop to do just that. The library doesn’t keep track of those patrons specifically.

The library also issued fewer cards and benefited from more than 1,000 fewer hours of service from volunteers.

On the other hand, its children, youth and adult programs all grew in numbers and attendance (adult attendance almost doubled, to 2,608 people, though the library’s meeting space is cramped). And in contrast with the annual report’s complaint about fewer dollars available for books and materials, the library added 12,600 new books and materials in 2012, compared with additions of 10,700 the year before and 9,620 in 2009.

The library also has hugely increased use of the library’s online databases, an indication of why fewer people are going to the library: they can get many of their resources, and their questions answered, at home, through the library’s web page, which includes generous resources, especially for students. In that sense (but in that sense alone), the library is open 24 hours.

Holly Albanese (© FlaglerLive)

“I would agree that as funds have declined so has our ability to provide the services to meet the needs of the public,” Albanese wrote in an email response to questions about the declining numbers. “However all you have to do is enter the library on any given day and see that the library is still the chosen community center. Do you remember what the lines were like during early voting? This is what I can tell you, as the budget declines so too does our purchasing power, hours of access and staff to serve the public. As a result our statistics will decline in direct correlation to the budget cuts.”

There’s also been technological issues with the way patrons were counted coming in (by way of a security system), which may have inflated the numbers of patrons before 2011. Current foot-traffic numbers, Albanese said, may be more reflective of what they had been in the past as well.

Technological issues may have also skewed prior internet usage. “Previously, if you wanted to use a library computer, you would do this using the PC Reservation system and your library card number,” Albanese explained. “The system would assign you a computer for either 30 minute or 1 hour increments. Per Internet Policy patrons are only allowed two hours per day. Prior to the implementation of a pin number we found some patrons were figuring out the accession of library card numbers and randomly choosing a number to gain access multiple times a day. The pin number is the last four digits of the patrons phone number that is on file in our circulation system and is required along with the corresponding library card number to gain access to a computer. In essence a select few were skewing our statistics through use of multiple library card numbers.”

In his presentation this evening, Ulsamer cites what he describes as “two inelegant metaphors”: that “the ship is sinking, or the library is on life support.”

“It’s time,” Ulsamer concludes, “to set things straight and either support your library properly.”

An earlier draft of the address had ended somewhat more accusingly: “It’s time to set things straight and either support this library properly, or perhaps we should just close the doors and use the funds to build a prison.”

The county commission last year approved a sales tax to do just that: build a bigger jail. The jail, incidentally, had its library closed, too, several years ago.

Jim Ulsamer’s Annual Report of the Library Board to the Flagler County Commission

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18 Responses for “Citing “Sorry State of Affairs,” Sullen Flagler Library Board Asking for a New Tax to Survive”

  1. Devrie says:

    I think it’s kind of unfair of me to bring up Bunnell, considering how under-budget the library already is, but when I asked about the Bunnell Library, Ms. Albanese said that funding is based on population. For Bunnell, the population numbers according to Census don’t include the unincorporated areas. Furthermore, I would conjecture that an adequate library in or around Bunnell would not only be useful to residents of just Bunnell, but other Palm Coast residents who live within the radius of the Bunnell area. The people in parts of the E-section, S-section, Z-section and R-section could be better served if the library closest to them was more full.

    I find that the Palm Coast library is struggling to keep up with the demands of a much larger population than it can; however, much of the population considered to be served by that library is actually closer to the Bunnell area.

    I’m not really sure if there’s a way they could work it out, but if they could move the Bunnell library to a slightly larger area by accounting for population by proximity (I’m not sure if that’s legal, or how they determine population served…although I’m guessing by city, perhaps for taxation purposes?), they might be able to meet criteria while serving a more underserved section of the county and by also accommodating those in the Palm Coast area.

  2. Initialjoe says:

    This, unfortunately, is the way things work when dealing with the people in office who are out of touch with their community or put their own personal agendas above their own community’s needs.

    “People want less taxes? Let’s cut edumacation and libraries. People don’t use libraries anymore because they can buy books and use the internet at home. They didn’t lose any money from their paychecks or even lose their jobs and can buy everything in the world….how could that be possible not to afford something?” Out of touch!!!

    PRIORITIES PEOPLE – The betterment of our community can be achieved through education and access to the worlds information by providing a library for that community.

  3. palmcoastpioneers says:

    For the newer Palm Coasters – the origin of the Library:

    Hopefully things will improve more than just a little footnote and perhaps interlibrary loans / Displays can be presented about the origins, heritage , and history of ‘The Palm Coast Project’: , and , etc.

    Below is one of the frequent ‘News Letters’ sent to Palm Coasters about the status and ‘State of the Palm Coast Project:’


    Dear Palm Coaster
    The year 1980 was an important milestone year for Palm Coast as several
    major projects were finished and others were speeding toward completion.

    Perhaps the most enthusiasm has been generated by the I-95 interchange which
    is soon to be completed at St. Joe Grade Road. The 3.6 million interchange
    will mean less travel time, reduced transportation costs and the ability for
    quicker response to emergency services for Palm Coast residents.

    Palm Coast development – both residential and commercial- experienced a rapid
    growth during the year. In spite of a national downward trend, housing
    starts in Palm Coast continued to show significant increases, up 12 % from

    Palm Coast housing took new directions in 1980, as construction began on a
    number of new model homes. included are luxury homes now under construction
    near the Pine Lakes Golf Course, waterway homes across from the Welcome
    Center, and moderate priced homes off of Belle Terre Parkway North. A total
    of 16 new model shelter units are planned to be opened at various times
    during 1981.

    Contributing significantly to the 1980 total of over 400 housing starts is
    the accelerated condominium activity. Three additional phases ( 76) units
    which are scheduled for completion within the next four months, will bring
    the Fairways condominium complex to a total of 200 units.

    The highlight of commercial activity was the grand opening of The Witteman
    Company headquarters. Formerly based in Buffalo, New York, Wittemann moved
    into their new 1.25 million Palm Coast facility in July, opening 70 jobs
    for the local workforce.

    The response to the newly completed Professional Office Building, which is
    already 75 percent leased, was so favorable that plans now are being made for
    additional professional office space construction.

    Palm Coast amenities also were in the forefront of the communities growth
    during the past year. The Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club had its grand
    opening last Spring, and now hosts many swim meets throughout the year.

    The Palm Coast Marina, one of the finest docking facilities on the Southeast
    Coast, was officially christened last Spring. The Beautiful new Pine Lakes
    Country Club golf course, designed by Arnold Palmer and Ed Seamy. held its
    grand opening in December, and is in excellent playing shape. Final plans
    were approved in late 1980 for the new Bowling Center. This facility, to be
    located on Old Kings’ Road, just west of the shopping center, is scheduled
    for completion during the summer of 1981.

    For Palm Coast clubs and organizations, 1980 was the busiest year I can
    remember. The International Festival, Italian American Fests, Mother Seton
    Church’s annual Oktoberfest, Palm Coast Civic Association July 4th and
    Labor Day celebrations and concerts of classical and jazz music were
    tremendous successes.

    —–>The Flagler Palm Coast Kiwanis Club brought the Circus to town in April, the
    Flagler County Friends of the Library opened a library in the Shopping
    Center, The Italian American Club began construction of their new club
    facility, and the Palm Coast YMCA sponsored a regional swim meets, soccer,
    and volley ball leagues, parades, dances and parties.<—–

    The religious sector of Palm Coast continued to expand in 1980. First
    services were held in March at the New Temple Beth Shalom on Wellington
    Drive, and the Presbyterian Church of Palm Coast broke ground for a worship
    facility of their own on Florida Park Drive.

    As of July, 1980, the Florida Legislature placed Palm Coast Utility
    Corporation under the jurisdiction of the PSC. Under this new arrangement,
    the Utility has sought and may periodically seek new water and sewer rates,
    fees and charges from the Public Service Commission, Tallahassee, Florida
    32304. where current and pending rates are available.

    Further steps for expanded educational facilities in Flagler County were
    bgun in 1980. a 6 Million school bond issue received voter approval in
    September, giving the Flagler County School District the go ahead for
    construction of a middle school in Palm Coast. The site consists of

    30 acres
    of land, 20 or which were donated by ICDC.

    Agreements were finalized between ICDC and Daytona Beach Community College
    for an ICDC donation of
    100 acres
    to be used in the future as a Flagler
    County branch campus.

    Palm Coast's growth also was evident in the living rooms of our residents.
    Palm Cable, Inc., continued its expansion program making cable TV service
    available to more than 1,000 homes in Palm Coast. Home Box Office HBO and
    Cinemax are now available to cable TV subscribers. In addition, installation
    of a new satellite receiving station in September made possible the TV
    reception of the Superstation Atlanta's Channel 17.

    I'm certain that when the history of Palm Coast is penned sometime in the
    distant future, the year that began the Community's second decade 1980 will
    warrant two chapters instead of one. It has been a year of outstanding
    accomplishment in Palm Coast; one in which we can all take pride, an I look
    forward to even greater growth and progress in the years ahead.
    Alan Smolen.

    The above from: ITT Community Development Corporation, Executive Offices, Palm Coast, Florida 32051 Telephone (904)445-2628

  4. confidential says:

    Library Board should ask the commissioners to shift the half a million of our taxes in the Economic Development Fund from “the second entrance access to the airport”, to the the library. At least some of it. Library positions should be volunteer for those that utilized it. Just the Librarian in charge was paid in 2010 about 70,000/year, wonder how much now.. Some library budget for a small county.
    The highest unemployment rate in Flagler County does not allow for these luxuries benefiting just the very few on mostly the pockets of the many unemployed.
    The library membership should raise funds for their entity as well. Library Board should organize fund raising events as community organizations do. Now with the new I-tech, libraries soon will be less and less utilized not longer justifying a costly tax district.

  5. palmcoastpioneers says:

    Would someone please pass this letter below to Mr. Ulsamer; Thank you very much.

    Dear Mr. Ulsamer – Chair of the Library Board of Directors:

    As you may be aware we Palm Coast Pioneers have been working very long and hard on an Official Historical Marker for Palm Coast, Inc.

    Below is the Marker ‘text’ that the Honorable State Historic Preservation Officer, Dr. Barbara Mattick, has prepared for the Marker Text.


    —– Original Message —–
    From: Mattick, Barabra
    Sent: Tuesday, June 19, 2012 7:26 AM

    Hi George,

    Here is our proposed text in PDF format. I am thinking the title would simply be PALM COAST, FLORIDA.


    Palm Coast was begun in 1969 by the ITT Corporation. The community was planned by William Levitt of Levitt & Sons, which ITT acquired in 1968. Levitt masterminded Levittown, New York, to provide affordable homes after World War II, and is considered the father of modern American suburbia. Palm Coast differed from the 35 other Florida Levitt projects developed from 1964-1994 in that, from the beginning, it was envisioned as an entire community, not just a subdivision or residential complex. Palm Coast initially included 48,000 home sites over 42,000 acres. The community’s first planned neighborhood materialized as nine different Mid-Century Modern model homes, with names such as Santa Rosa, DeSoto, and Delmar, were built. These homes featured hollow concrete block construction, gabled roofs, and some board and batten siding and faux brick detailing. Public amenities included a boat landing; waterfalls; marina; golf course; and yacht and tennis clubs. Palm Coast “pioneers” developed a social community as their homes became venues for a Bible school and medical care, and an open area became the “Neighborhood Park.” By 1975, 38,000 houses were sold; and in 1999 Palm Coast was incorporated as a city.

    1214 characters

    Let us know your thoughts or need for any corrections.


    Barbara E. Mattick, Ph.D.

    Historic Preservationist Supervisor & Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer for Survey & Registration | Bureau of Historic Preservation | Division of Historical Resources |

    Florida Department of State | 500 South Bronough Street | Tallahassee, Florida 32399 | 850.245.6364 |1.800.847.7278|Fax: 850.245.6431 ||


    Florida is headed in the right direction!
    Click to Enlarge

    The Department of State is leading the commemoration of Florida’s 500th anniversary in 2013. For more information, please go to

    The Department of State is committed to excellence.
    Please take our Customer Satisfaction Survey.


    Mr. Ulsamer – perhaps this may be of interest to you, that is, placing the / an Official Historic Marker in front of the Library since it is a very active and public Building giving Palm Coasters a great ‘Sense of Place’.

    We hope this is a viable suggestion for you and the Library.

    Thank you.

  6. palmcoastpioneers says:

    Mr. Ulsamer:
    Some of the unique Heritage and Historic items of ‘The Palm Coast Project’ that the Library houses/ is Stewards of:
    ( Pls. scroll down the page to pictures 12, 13, and 14. )
    We hope this is helpful information should you pursue an official Heritage / Historic Marker. If so, we will be happy to provide you copies of the original documents we are Stewards of.
    Perhaps also the Flagler County Historical Society can be of help via FLAGLER LIVE should you and the Board choose to pursue this high honor.

  7. Lonewolf says:

    I’ve never lived i a state where every dinky board or organization can make you pay their special tax. Unbelievable! Libraries are outmoded and outdated

  8. BW says:

    The reality is that the role of libraries is changing, but too often people are stringently resisting this change. The statement that Holly Albanese made in terms of the library being a “community center” is correct. The library systems that are truly embracing that concept and moving forward with an open mind and the willingness to innovate are successful. St. Johns County Libraries are not successful just because of money, but because of the ideas and open-minded vision they have.

    Ebooks is often the “culprit” for many to blame, but the reality is that ebooks and the internet have opened up a new avenue for libraries to evolve and innovate. St. Johns County educates and holds training sessions on ebooks and ereaders. They have a strong partnership with local writers groups to teach publishing and new publishing opportunities in the ebook world. They utilize social media and social networks to raise awareness and better connect with the community. And St. Johns also participates in affiliate sales with etailers like Amazon to sell books online and add another revenue source.


  9. Diego Miller says:

    The Flagler County Commission and Mr. Craig Coffey have continually cut spending where it is crucially needed. They don’t realize that it is more important to have people working in library’s, people cleaning swales, investing in the arts and what about Flaglers crumbling infrastructure, it’s a disaster. They continue to pay lots of white collars big salaries, health care and pensions just like the Feds. Can’t wait for the next elections. Too many chiefs and not enough indians.

  10. Taxed to Death says:

    OK – I am now in the red on my diminishing Social Security COLA raise.

  11. Nikia says:

    Good luck to you Mr Ulsamer. Our family is affected by the loss of Sun hrs at the library. My 5 yr old loves the library and Sun is the best day for us. Hoping our leaders make the right decisions. It is shameful to Flagler County that it has gotten to this point. For some who have been affected by the economy the library may be their only access to books, information or internet. It is such a source of support and growth for our community. Really, only $9. Truly shameful.

  12. trebor says:

    As long as we continue to elect politicians instead of public servants to the Couinty Commision, special interests will get priorities not the residents of the county.

  13. Wow! I am really surprised at the feedback regarding Jim Ulamers report to the BOCC tonight considering that the majority of the responses have nothing to do with his report. First, regarding the Bunnell Library, it is serving the needs of the communtiy in terms of what has been identified. There are computers, current bestseller books, a law Library and access to media at the Palm Coast Library if needed. So far, no additional expansion seems to be necessary or has been asked for to address the other neighborhoods mentioned. Second, the long story about the history of Palm Coast, specified as being the history of the Library, is NOT a history of the Library. Although an interesting and informative history of Palm Coast, it doesn’t add to the history and background of the Library. And, regarding adding a historic marker in front of the Library, although what may be a good idea, perhaps in front of the GSB would be a better location? Bottom line, not one of these stories or responses addresses what Jim Ulsamer’s report was about tonight which was the help and support in funding that the Library needs. And, it is needed now! Our Library cannot continue to loose funding. If it does, then, it doesn’t matter if someone wants to put a plaque our front. It won’t matter what the history of the Library was, especially if its value continues to diminish. The BOCC meeting tonight and Jim Ulsamer’s presentation was about needing community and financial support for the Library. It was about needing continued support for the Library from this BOCC. And, further, to address another comment that the Library membership should raise funds, The Friends of the Library already offers support to the Library in terms of volunteers and a budget of approximately $78,000 per year plus in the past year, $6000 in scholarship funding. The Friends pay for all the adult, young adult and children’s programs that are held at the Library each year. This amounts to about 500 programs per year with an attendance of about 20,000 patrons. As a volunteer community, we are supporting our Library.
    The turnout at the BOCC meeting tonight at the GSB in support of the Library was phenomenal! The Friends members turned out en masse! What I would like to see next are some responses and articles about support for the Library and proper funding.

  14. Samuel Smith says:

    Palm Coast should fund the library using red light camera fees.

  15. Ogreagain says:

    Can’t we just take some money from all these red light tickets, and shift it over there?

  16. Geezer says:

    Flagler/Palm Coast’s ugly stepchildren:

    *Public Library
    *Family Life Center
    *Humane Society
    *Social Services
    (Let’s cut more money from their budgets!) Screw ’em!

    Biological, fair-haired children:

    *Water company
    *Elected officials
    *Public works, utilities (water tastes like a book of matches, though)
    (Let’s throw wheelbarrows of money at them!)

    Let’s lead in animal euthanasia, illiteracy, and domestic abuse!
    Hip-Hip, Hooray!

    Just don’t drink the water!

  17. Pamala Zill says:

    I agree with the idea and vision of libraries evolving into community centers. Learning. Has many facets as we all realize but, reluctantly embrace as a community. Private, Benefactors, Its time to step up. Think of it as a preventative, worthwhile. Investment and donate, donate, donate I say!!

  18. palmcoastpioneers says:

    (D) DEED
    Modified Date:
    Record Date : 12/30/1992 4:08:00 PM
    Event Date : Not Available
    1st Party – Grantor: ITT CDC


    Book Type: OR
    Book / Page: 480 / 554
    # of Pages: 5
    Consideration: 0.00
    Legal Description
    Legal: POR S11,12,13,14-11-30 SEE INSTR
    The legal description shown here may be condensed for assessment purposes. Exact description may be obtained from the recorded deed. A -0020

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