Library hours cut; is new referendum next?

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November 12, 2002 // UPDATED 1:33 pm - April 30, 2007
By: Scott Russell
Scott Russell

The Minneapolis Library Board's Finance Committee unanimously voted to reduce hours at four libraries, including the new interim Downtown Central Library by 16 hours a week, and to close libraries citywide for 12 extra days in 2003. The cuts are part of a $1.5 million budget reduction package to bring it in line with city spending goals.

The full Library Board was scheduled to vote on the package Wednesday, Nov. 20.

The Finance Committee voted to open the interim Central Library one hour later (at 9 a.m., rather than 8 a.m.) and close it three hours earlier (at 6 p.m., not 9 p.m.) Monday through Thursday. The cuts would save $130,000.

"The bottom line is, we are not closing any libraries," said Board President Laurie Savran. "That is my highest priority."

The city and the Board of Estimates and Taxation froze library tax revenue in 2003. Because of rising personnel and operating costs, the Library Board had to cut $1.5 million from its proposed 2003 budget.

The Finance Committee proposal would save more than half of the $1.5 million by leaving authorized positions unfilled, said Janice Feye-Stuckas, acting library director. Leaving a 5 percent vacancy rate would save $830,000.

It was one of several budget measures the committee approved Nov. 6. The committee approved saving:

$300,000 by reducing hours at four community libraries.

$100,000 by closing all libraries citywide for six days, yet to be determined but likely late summer.

$80,000 by closing on three minor holidays (President's Day, Columbus Day and Veteran's Day), the Saturdays before Memorial Day and Labor Day and the Saturday after July 4.

$80,000 by paying for a new roof at Franklin Library from the capital budget instead of the operating budget.

The savings from library closings -- $100,000 for shutting down for a week -- appear small. That is because staff could still use vacation on those days, she said.

The savings come because the libraries would not have to hire so many temporary staff to fill in for vacation days during the rest of the year, she said. Further, some staff would take leave without pay on the days the libraries close, adding to the savings.

The one-week shutdown would likely be the week before Labor Day, which tends to be slow, Feye-Stuckas said. The summer reading program is over. School hasn't started yet.

"This has been very, difficult. The library has never had to deal with a cut of this magnitude," she said. "We are not asking staff to cut salary as yet to make this budget work."

The Library Board may consider going to referendum again to ask voters to increase its operating budget to offset proposed cuts. The agenda for the Nov. 6 Finance Committee included a resolution requesting a referendum, but the committee delayed action.

In November 2000, city voters approved a $140 million referendum, with $110 million for a new Downtown Central Library and $30 million to improve community libraries. At the time, some criticized the plan's failure to address future operating cost increases.

Savran said the Library Board thought it was premature to ask the voters to support another referendum.

"We are not going to address the referendum until after the first of the year," she said. "We want to know how the city would feel about it. We want to know how it fits into our long-term capital campaign. We are partners with the city on the Central Library project; we want to maintain that relationship."