Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke promised impatient an frustrated patrons of the long-closed Govans branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library last night that he would find the money to reopen it next year.
The library users said they were not going to let the mayor leave the room without getting a commitment from him, and Mr. Schmoke answered by saying that a reopening date is likely by spring.
He also told community residents concerned about crime, drugs and drinking near the 71-year-old brick library building on Bellona Avenue that he would order lights installed on the grounds so riff-raff would stop congregating there at night.
Mr. Schmoke said money to reopen the Govans library -- closed in March for renovation, and then lost in a series of budget crises -- would come either from his proposal to increase the city's piggyback tax rate or from outside the library system budget.
"I don't want to give you a specific day, but I would like to beat the June 30 [fiscal year] deadline," Mr. Schmoke told the crowd of more than 100 people who gathered to politely pester him and Pratt Director Anna Curry about restoring service.
"We'll shoot for a January opening, but I believe we'll get it open closer to spring," he said.
The mayor told the Friends of the Govans Library, which played host to the meeting at the nearby Meridian Nursing Center, to form a committee to keep tabs on how well the Pratt follows through on finishing lingering renovations.
Outside work, costing $300,000, has been finished, and a second architect has been brought in to speed up $190,000 in interior renovations. But the real problem in Govans is finding money to hire staff.
"Even if we could open today, I don't have the staff to run it," said Florence Brown, chief of the Pratt's branch system.
Ms. Brown told the mayor she needs five positions to operate the library full time: two professional librarians, two clerks and a part-time high school page to shelve books.
Mr. Schmoke assured Ms. Brown that he would get the money for those jobs; however, no cost was given.
The increase in the city's piggyback tax, which must be approved by the City Council and the state legislature, would be used to hire 240 extra police officers, with money left over for libraries and educational purposes, Mr. Schmoke said.
He is seeking to increase the current 50 percent piggyback income tax rate to 60 percent.
Library supporters took turns asking the mayor what he was going to do to get the library open, and when he was going to do it, showing little patience for long explanations about the bad financial times the city is suffering. "I don't have an answer for how we move out of this dilemma," Mrs. Curry said.
The people of the Govans area believe they have been made to share an unfair burden of the Pratt's money problems, since many of the city's 27 other neighborhood branches are open full time, but Govans has been without a library for nearly three years.
"We're trying every day to understand this, Mr. Mayor," said Joan Childress, a founder of the library friends group. "The children of Govans have been completely cut off, the citizens of Govans have been completely cut off. We are asking that the library be reopened, and we will ask and ask and ask again until it is."