Mayor's budget cuts could mean library closings -
Published Wednesday, June 19, 2013 at 12:00 am / Updated at 9:39 am
Mayor's budget cuts could mean library closings

Omaha Public Library branches could close and other service cuts could be made in light of budget cuts proposed by Mayor Jean Stothert, the head of the city’s Library Board said.

The Omaha Public Library Board will discuss the potential cuts today, board President Stuart Chittenden said in a Tuesday memo to the mayor.

Chittenden said a $13.1 million library budget suggested by Stothert for 2014 “will require reductions in both services and resources.”

According to Chittenden’s letter, the library is facing a potential cut of nearly $393,000 for the rest of 2013 and all of 2014.

Last week, Stothert said city department directors had submitted 2014 budget proposals that exceed forecast revenue by roughly $20 million. The city also faces a revenue shortfall of about $13.5 million in its 2013 budget.

Stothert asked the directors last week to cut their 2014 budget requests to certain targets, although she declined to identify the specific numbers for each department.

Department directors were to submit their trims to the Mayor’s Office by the end of business Wednesday, Stothert said.

Chittenden outlined three scenarios for Stothert:

»   Close the Swanson Library, reduce library programs by 30 percent, reduce purchased titles and eliminate a tutoring service.

»   Close the Florence Library and close the main W. Dale Clark Library and Millard Library one day a week — while still cutting programs, titles and the tutoring service.

»   Reduce hours and days of service at all libraries, but keep all locations open, in addition to the other proposed trims.

Under this scenario, Chittenden said, the Florence, Sorensen, Swanson and Willa Cather Libraries would reduce operations to four days, while the W. Dale Clark Library and Millard Libraries would be reduced to six days of service.

In a statement, Stothert said the library proposals “are only ideas.”

“No decisions have been made,” she said.

Stothert emphasized that raising taxes is “not an option” and said her administration will make its budget recommendations July 1.

The potential library cuts already are generating opposition.

“I wouldn’t support closing any library branch,” City Council President Pete Festersen said Tuesday. “And I’d fight to save the Florence Library, as we did in 2009.”

The Library Board will meet at 4 p.m. today at northwest Omaha’s Saddlebrook Library, said Omaha Public Library Director Gary Wasdin.

Chittenden, in his letter, said many of the library’s expenses will increase next year, including employee benefits and contracts for facility maintenance.

A custodial contract expires this year, Chittenden said, and library officials expect a “significant increase in the cost for this service” when they seek a new bid.

Snow removal and lawn care costs also will increase, Chittenden said, in addition to a 5 percent to 10 percent expected increase in materials costs for books, online resources and other collection items for next year.

“A ‘flat’ budget that provides OPL the same buying power as 2013 would be approximately $13.8 million,” Chittenden wrote. “Anything less than this will require reductions in both services and resources.”

Chittenden said closing the Swanson Library at 90th Street and West Dodge Road would be the least disruptive option for the library system.

That’s because the branch could move to a redeveloped Crossroads Mall site by 2015, assuming that money is available for both the mall and library projects. Residents could use the Abrahams or Millard Library in the meantime, he said, because many Swanson Library customers have cars.

An option to close the Florence Library would also include closing the downtown W. Dale Clark Library on Sundays and the Millard Library on Fridays.

The Florence location is the city’s smallest library and serves the fewest residents. The location’s branch manager and other staff members would be shifted to other locations, Chittenden said.

A 2009 cost-saving proposal that would have temporarily closed the Florence Library drew strong opposition from residents. The branch was renovated in 2010 with about $763,000 in city capital improvement fund money.

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