Nine libraries could be closed by Hayden cuts Loch Raven branch faces ax along with smaller units

February 08, 1993|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Staff Writer

Eight small Baltimore County libraries and the full-service Loch Raven branch library face closing under the Hayden administration's plans to reduce the size of county government, according to several county sources.

The eight small libraries are a combination of store-front "mini-libraries" and "satellite" libraries throughout the county. The Loch Raven branch, at 1046 Taylor Ave., near Loch Raven Boulevard, was included because it needs repairs and is not far from the larger, newer Towson branch in the 300 block of York Road, the sources said.

County Executive Roger B. Hayden is scheduled to announce on Thursday his full plan for reducing the size of county government, with layoffs for several hundred employees. As many as 500 positions -- some already vacant -- are to be eliminated, officials said earlier.

Mr. Hayden has said he will eliminate "good and useful" county programs which are no longer affordable because of two years of state budget cuts and recession-lowered county revenues. In addition to libraries, the cuts could affect other services such as senior centers and recreation programs.

Scheduled for closing are the mini-libraries in Edgemere, Jacksonville, Owings Mills and Wellwood, on Smith Avenue near Pikesville. Satellite libraries affected are those in Lansdowne, Dundalk, Turners Station and Middle River.

Residents in Lansdowne, a largely poor, isolated southwestern county community, already have begun a petition drive to save their library after rumors of the closing swept the area last week.

None of the seven members of the library system board of trustees, nor library Director Charles Robinson, would comment on the closings. The board reviewed the plan at its meeting early last week.

"It's a terrible shame," Robert L. Goldman, president of the Smith-Greenspring Community Association, said on hearing that the Wellwood storefront library in the nearby Greenspring shopping center may close.

"That's used by a lot of senior citizens," Mr. Goldman said, adding that he can reluctantly accept the mini-library closing but is adamantly opposed to cutting either police protection or education.

Mr. Hayden has said he will not lay off any police officers, and will hire a new recruit class to fill vacancies.

The strategy driving the decisions by the county executive and the library board of trustees may well be reflected in decisions on cuts to other county departments, the government sources said. That strategy is to preserve the heart of a service or operation, while cutting back on less vital aspects -- like convenience for the public.

Mr. Robinson and his staff have said over the last two years of cuts that they feel preserving the book-buying budget is their top priority, because the availability of new books is what keeps public use of the county library system high.

The Baltimore County system is third in the nation in total circulation of library materials, and first in per-capita circulation, Mr. Robinson has said.

Last year, when all county employees were required to take five days of payless furloughs, county library workers volunteered to take 10 days off without pay in order to preserve the book-buying budget. The library budget this fiscal year is $20.6 million, down from $22.5 million last year. In addition, the system eliminated its book reservation system, to keep newer books available for more frequent use.

One source noted that people have gotten used to the extra library services as the system has expanded in the past 20 years, like the convenience of 24 locations and availability of video tapes. If patrons now have to drive or take a bus a few miles farther, it's worth the trade-off of being able to continue expanding the system's collection, the source said.

Since the county's citizens seem unwilling to accept more tax increases, "people have to make decisions," another source said, about what government services they are willing to pay for.

Mr. Hayden has kept his budget-cutting decisions secret even from County Council members. He has released general information, however, revealing in November that some county workers will lose their jobs.

County budget director Fred Homan told supervisory workers last month that 400 to 500 county jobs will be eliminated -- 70 percent to 80 percent of which are filled. The executive also recently informed union heads that the county will use federal funds to open an employee assistance center to help workers who lose jobs.

Last week, Mr. Hayden announced that he will not lay off any police officers, that he plans to hire a new recruit class to try to keep pace with retirements, and that he will free 35 officers from desk jobs by hiring civilians to do the work.

In addition, he announced Thursday that he will advertise for private contractors to run the planned drunken driving prison in Owings Mills, which should open 25 to 40 new jobs -- possibly for laid-off county workers.

Part of the mystery that Mr. Hayden may address Thursday is how he plans to make up for the $31.7 million budget shortfall.

He has apportioned $6 million of the cut to the school board and $1.6 million to the county's three community colleges, said he will use the county's $5 million surplus from last year's budget, and will gain another $3 million to $4 million by freezing vacant jobs.

That leaves about $16 million to be accounted for.

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