Library users try to stop Baltimore County closings Many call Hayden's office after learning of possible cutbacks to pare the budget

February 09, 1993|By Larry Carson and Frank D. Roylance | Larry Carson and Frank D. Roylance,Staff Writers

The alarm bells went off in Baltimore County neighborhoods yesterday following news that five community library branches and four storefront mini-libraries are likely to be closed as part of Baltimore County Executive Roger B. Hayden's budget-cutting plans.

Scores of upset county residents called Mr. Hayden's offices yesterday to complain after reading a report in The Sun on the planned library closings. Mr. Hayden will announce major cutbacks in county services Thursday.

A band of activists from the Lansdowne and Baltimore Highlands areas met yesterday with Mr. Hayden to urge him to save their tiny library. Meanwhile, patrons of the Loch Raven library -- the largest on the list -- were asking why a branch busy enough to be approved for a $1 million addition would now be targeted for closure.

Altogether, the county operates seven large area branches, 13 smaller community branches and four mini-libraries. The other facilities slated for closing, according to county sources, include the mini-libraries in Edgemere, Jacksonville, Owings Mills and Wellwood, and small branches in Dundalk, Turners Station and Middle River.

The library has long been one of Baltimore County's most popular government services. It has the third largest total circulation in the country and the highest per-capita circulation. It is also popular with Baltimore City residents, whose borrowings account for 14 percent of total circulation.

County library Director Charles W. Robinson would not confirm the closings but said small community libraries "are fine as long as you can afford it. But in Baltimore County we can no longer afford a library system arranged the way we have it arranged. . . TC It's much more economical, and more in line with today's lifestyle, to have a few very large libraries with everything you need and plenty of parking space."

Councilman Douglas R. Riley, whose district includes the Loch Raven branch, said, "I'm obviously concerned, not the least over the fact there is no public hearing when the library board decides to close public libraries."

But the County Council will not support a tax increase this year, he said, and has left it up to Mr. Hayden to cut services.

He said he supports the concept of fewer libraries providing higher quality service.

"I think what taxpayers want is for us to streamline government," he said. The debate over whether the county has gone too far with its cuts can come next year, and "we can at that point straighten out our priorities."

The small Lansdowne library costs $75,391 a year to run. The Loch Raven branch costs $864,000 a year.

Meeting with Mr. Hayden and County Councilwoman Berchie Lee Manley, R-1st, yesterday were the Rev. Steven P. Girard, pastor of St. Clement's Catholic Church in Lansdowne; Patricia Mattson, principal of Baltimore Highlands Elementary School; Paul Nalley, a local convenience store owner; and John Mickanis, a Lansdowne recreation supervisor.

They told Mr. Hayden that 42 percent of the people in their far southwestern county community don't have working vehicles. To get to the next nearest library in Arbutus, they would have to take a bus downtown, transfer and take another one out to the county.

Ms. Mattson said her lower-income, geographically isolated school district needs the library.

"These people are victims of the economy," she said. School workers are trying to "get them to know the value of education -- how to read stories to their children. There are no books in their homes and no money to buy books."

Mr. Nalley, who said he grew up in Lansdowne, said the community opposed building the hundreds of units of subsidized housing that are in the area. "The county has a responsibility," he said, to provide services for the people. "People already feel cheated and disregarded," he said.

Mr. Hayden listened patiently, then said that his decisions on cuts won't be final until Thursday.

At the Loch Raven branch, some patrons had mixed reactions to news of the branch's possible closing.

"Any time a public library or an institution like this closes, I think it hurts the community," said Chris Hromanik, 30, of Loch Raven Heights, who was carrying his 11-month old son, Zack, on his hip.

On the other hand, he said, "This branch seems to be lower on the rungs in terms of quality and selection" than others he visits, including the Cockeysville branch.

Florence G. Oldham, of Glendale, however, said she had already tried to call Mr. Hayden's office to object to the library's closure. "The closest library to here is Towson, which is gridlock, and . . . this is a white elephant if they close it," she said.

Jackie Kipke, 32, of Parkville, with her two pre-schoolers in tow, said she grew up nearby and always felt safe using the Loch Raven branch at night. "But if they did close it, we would just use a larger branch," she said. "I don't want to pay more taxes. They're ridiculous to begin with."

Mary Poehlman, president of the Hillendale Improvement Association Inc., said, "I'm extremely upset. We have an awful lot of senior citizens in this area that use that library . . . Towson [library] is extremely inconvenient and it's far."

Library Manager Angie Benner said the Loch Raven branch has 103,000 books and serves an area with 24,000 residents. The library has 14 full-time and 26 part-time employees.

Mr. Robinson was unable to say how many of those people would lose their jobs were the Loch Raven branch closed. "If we did close it, we would save $864,000," he said. The county also would not spend the more than $1 million that voters have approved for an addition made necessary by increasing use.

The branch has high maintenance costs and a problem with vandalism, he said.

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