Citrus County is in the national spotlight due to commissioners blocking the library system from spending about $2,700 a year over three years for a digital subscription to the New York Times that could be accessed free by any of the county’s 70,000 library card holders.
Based on some of the comments we’ve seen — and there have been plenty — it seems like a good time to bring everyone up to speed on what happened, what didn’t and where it goes from here:
Q: Why are county commissioners opposed to having the New York Times in the libraries? Don’t they realize the Times is all the news that’s fit to print?
A: Commissioners never said they don’t want the Times in the libraries. The print edition is available in the libraries now and this issue is unrelated.
Q: So what’s the problem?
A: In late October, the board had a request from library director Eric head to sign a three-year contract with the New York Times for a digital subscription that can be shared by all library card holders. Led by Commissioner Scott Carnahan, who labeled the Times as “fake news,” the commission declined the request.
Q: What was the vote?
A: There actually was no vote. Commissioner Brian Coleman made a motion to approve the request and Carnahan seconded the motion. After brief discussion, the motion was withdrawn and commissioners went on with their agenda.
Q: Why should my taxes pay for a digital subscription when the print edition is now available in the libraries?
A: That was Commissioner Ron Kitchen Jr.’s initial argument and other commissioners have mentioned that as well.
Q: And … ?
A: Well, one argument raised is that not everyone has access to the library and not every library has the same print subscription. Coastal Region in Crystal River and the Homosassa libraries carry only the Sunday Times. The county pays about $3,000 a year for the print subscription.
Q: Why was board approval necessary for a newspaper subscription?
A: Anything that requires the board chairman’s signature on a contract goes to the county commission for approval.
Q: Wasn’t this already in the library’s budget?
A: The contract still needs board approval even if it’s budgeted.
Q: I’d rather see that $2,700 be used for something else, like paving roads. Can’t we do that instead?
A: While the library is tax-supported, it’s with a special library property tax. The library tax is 0.3217 mills — about $32 for the average homeowner. Money raised for the library taxing district cannot be used for anything but libraries.
Q: I’ve read online comments and tweets that the county commission cancelled the Times’ subscription. Is that true?
A: No. The print subscription still exists and the county never had a digital subscription to the Times.
Q: Surely someone, not the taxpayers, can step up and help.
A: They are! Since the Washington Post picked up the story Tuesday and numerous other national media followed, 11 gofundme.com pages were set up to raise money for the subscriptions. In all, nearly $9,000 was raised — enough to pay for the three-year subscription. Plus, the Chronicle received several emails from individuals offering to help pay, and the Society of Professional Journalists Florida chapter has also offered to help.
Q: Where do I send my check?
A: Not so fast. The library system doesn’t want to accept any private donations for a subscription that it technically does not have. Even if private funds are raised, it still needs board approval.
Q: Where does it stand now?
A: Commissioner Coleman has it scheduled for the Tuesday, Nov. 19 board agenda and is recommending the county give up the print New York Times subscription for the digital one. The commission meeting starts at 1 p.m. at the courthouse in Inverness.