Extended hours sought at Westminster library

March 07, 1994|By Donna E. Boller | Donna E. Boller,Sun Staff Writer

Sharon Lanzi, a teacher at Runnymede Elementary School, would love to have the Westminster library open Sunday afternoons.

"I could get over here on Sunday. It's hard to get here after work," she said. In Towson, where she grew up, she spent many Sunday afternoons in the library.

Westminster area resident Ed Harbin would prefer extended hours Friday nights.

City Councilman Damian L. Halstad is working to get both, in an effort to bring more people downtown and help revitalize business.

The idea sounds good to Thomas Ferguson, president of the Greater Westminster Development Corp., which is trying to retain business and to market city attractions.

"Anything that is done to encourage a major attraction like the library to expand its hours has got to be helpful for downtown," Mr. Ferguson said. If local merchants saw increased foot traffic, they might extend their hours, he suggested.

Mr. Halstad said he realizes his idea faces an uphill battle with the county commissioners, who would be asked to finance additional library hours.

"I'm not optimistic this will happen any time soon, but it won't happen at all if we don't get the ball rolling," Mr. Halstad said. He proposed additional library hours in conjunction with the development corporation's plans for bolstering business and publicizing city attractions.

The commissioners reacted to the idea by saying they couldn't afford it and were unwilling to raise taxes. They also cited other priorities.

No cost estimate for extended hours was available last week. Library director Linda Mielke, information specialist Ann Wisner and the county's management and budget director, Steven D. Powell, said they had no information on hourly or daily operating costs for the library.

The commissioners are being shortsighted if they look only at how much extended library hours would cost them, said Rick Grandinetti, owner of LaStrada Groceria, at 11 E. Main St. across from the library.

"The county commissioners' budget stands to increase itself if businesses downtown get more business, is that not correct?" Mr. Grandinetti said. The money that merchants take in is taxable income, he noted.

Mr. Grandinetti said he believed additional hours would benefit his business if library patrons stopped for a sandwich or ice cream. He began keeping his shop open until 9 p.m. on Fridays in January and plans to add Sunday hours "the first Sunday with decent weather."

Tim Bryson, owner of Locust Books at 9 E. Main St., said he would be "delighted from a business point of view" with extended library hours on Fridays.

He said he tried Sunday hours for eight years without success. "If they opened the library on Sundays, I don't think it would lead us to give [Sunday bookstore hours] a try, but as a town resident, I'd love it," Mr. Bryson said.

He said shopping volume at his store had increased substantially the 14 years he has been in business. He estimated that the bookstore does 40 percent of its business after 5 p.m.

Ms. Mielke, the library director, said she could not comment on the idea until after she has met and discussed it with Mr. Halstad.

Commissioner Elmer C. Lippy said he didn't like the idea of Sunday afternoon hours because some churches have afternoon activities. He said he wouldn't object to lengthening library hours Fridays, but feared that if the Westminster library's hours were extended, other towns would want similar service.

"Then we'd have to get out our budget books and once again calculate the cost. It's always a question of the bucks," Mr. Lippy said.

He said he would not vote to raise taxes to provide additional library services.

"I consider it my main mission here to keep expenses down and therefore keep taxes down," he said.

Commissioner Donald I. Dell said he "wouldn't have any problem with the [extended] hours, because the more we can serve the public, the better. If the town wants to pay the bill, that's fine."

Mr. Dell said he would oppose raising taxes to provide additional service. "We just can't continue to tax for every little special interest group's desires," he said.

Commissioner Julia W. Gouge called it "a wonderful idea," but said the county doesn't have the money to increase library hours now.

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