By Patrick McCallister
For Hometown News
Volusia County Manager Jim Dinneen summed up the physics: "Two people cannot occupy the same place at the same time."
In the end, volunteer tax preparers won out over moviegoers at the New Smyrna Beach Public Library - at least for 2013. All bets are off for anything after that. Joie Alexander, New Smyrna Beach, was disappointed that fellow Volusia County Council members bent a longstanding county policy to accommodate AARP Tax Aid.
"We need to say what we mean, mean what we say and stick to it," she said. "If you want to change (a policy), come back for a full discussion, not just because one or two people came and asked for it."
At its Oct. 4 regular meeting, the County Council agonized over Fridays at the New Smyrna Beach Public Library, 1001 S. Dixie Freeway. For several years, AARP Tax Aid has used the auditorium there on Fridays and Saturdays from February to April to help folks file their federal income taxes. At the same time, the library's Free Film Series has been getting more popular. That's done on Fridays, and also uses the auditorium.
Splitting it in two has worked in the past, but with more people using both services something had to give. The county library policy is that its programs come first, so the AARP Tax Aid folks were told no Fridays. They went to the County Council for an exception and got it in a 4-2 vote. The council has six members; Carl Persis resigned earlier this year.
"For this tax season, I'd like to work out something," council member Andy Kelly said at the meeting.
Paul Weiss, training coordinator, said AARP Tax Aid is a local group affiliated with the AARP and Volunteer Income Tax Assistance.
"I'm pleased the County Council voted to support us," Mr. Weiss said. "We have a worthwhile program that serves hundreds of people."
Mr. Weiss said AARP Tax Aid volunteer tax preparers help file about 2,500 to 3,000 people a year at the New Smyrna Beach library.
In an interview before the meeting, Lucinda Colee, library director, said the movies draw about 70 viewers a week. At the meeting, Ms. Alexander said that weighed heavily on her mind, because property tax payers have a special rate they pay just for libraries.
"I am a big supporter of the library and the patrons pay that millage for that," she said.
Before the meeting, county staff attempted to find another location for AARP Tax Aid, but to no avail. Ms. Alexander said after the meeting she believes the volunteer organization was being intransigent. Fellow council member Josh Wagner, of Port Orange, disagreed and moved to let AARP Tax Aid have the library auditorium on Fridays.
Mr. Dinneen predicted the council would later face the same dilemma.
"I think you're sending a signal this will happen again next year," he said after the vote.
Mr. Weiss, after the meeting, said AARP Tax Aid would rather skip that fight.
"We are going to try to find a new location," he said.