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Does Bonita Springs need a new library?
Does Bonita Springs need a new library?: A Bonita Springs citizen task force met with Lee County Commissioner Larry Kiker about getting the county to fund or upgrade Bonita's 12,000 square foot library. Kiker supported the idea to do a $50,000 library study. Video by Chris Umpierre

Lee County Commissioner Larry Kiker walked through the library’s employee section, where staffers worked in tiny cubicles near a 2-foot high pile of books. He then toured Bonita Springs Library’s limited bookshelves, children’s area and computer work stations.

“From what I’ve seen, it is cramped,” Kiker said. “It looks like this library is doing a lot of great things with little room.”

Bonita Springs’ three-year fight to get a new library gained a key supporter Thursday. In a meeting with Bonita’s citizen library task force, Kiker said he supports the city’s request to have the county fund a $50,000 Bonita library study. Kiker believes the commission will approve the study, which would analyze what kind of library the growing community of 45,000 residents needs.

The city hopes the county will use the study to fund a new Bonita library, but the idea is riddled with questions. The Lee County Library System is facing a $7 million annual operating deficit, but library Executive Director Sheldon Kaye plans to ask the county to increase the library tax rate to fund new libraries in Bonita Springs and North Fort Myers over the next five years.

Kaye hasn’t announced his proposed library tax increase. The library charges 35 cents per $1,000 of taxable property. That means homeowners of a $150,000 house pay $52.50 per year in library taxes. Doubling the tax rate could perhaps raise the $12 million needed to fund a new Bonita Library.

Kiker recommended the city push to get the project on the county’s five-year plan.

“From a regional basis, I guess you can say Bonita is in competition for a new library with North Fort Myers and all the other towns,” Kiker said. “But in the same breath, Bonita has also helped other communities inside the region get new libraries. It’s just a matter of prioritization.”

Bonita officials say the community has been a donor city for too long. Since 2000, Bonita taxpayers have paid $44 million to the county library fund as the city’s own library hasn’t been improved. Bonita has also watched other libraries get built, such as the $20 million facility being built in downtown Fort Myers.

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On Thursday, Kaye said he wants Bonita’s library to get built before North Fort Myers’ because he wants to see how many North Fort Myers residents use the new downtown facility.

Last renovated in 1991, Bonita Springs’ 12,000-square-foot library is older and smaller than most of the 13 branches in Lee County’s library system. Library patrons complain the library is cramped and the 36 workstations are always in use.

“I don’t think $50,000 is very much to ask for at all,” Kiker said. “Unless these folks are ever going to get an upgrade or a new library, without that kind of information no one can make a good decision. To me, it’s more than something they need. It’s a requirement.”

Bonita library task force member Ken Pennington was thrilled with Kiker’s support.

“I’ve been on this task force for three years, and we’ve been treading water,” Pennington told Kiker. “To have you here today gives me more encouragement than anything we’ve done. Just to have somebody in our corner. I feel we have something solid to put our teeth into for the first time.”

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