Proposed cuts would trim library staff, hours Action would mean laying off 30, director say

March 13, 1996|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,SUN STAFF

Carroll residents will find their public libraries open fewer hours and fewer staff members on hand to answer reference questions next fiscal year if the County Commissioners go ahead with plans to trim $644,525 from the system's budget.

The proposed 14 percent cut in the library's $4.5 million spending plan for fiscal 1997, which begins July 1, would mean laying off 30 workers and a 33 percent reduction in hours, to 40 hours from 60, Linda Mielke, the library's director, told the commissioners at a packed hearing last night at the Carroll County Agricultural Center in Westminster.

More than 200 people crowded the hearing room, lining the walls and standing outside open doors to show their support for the library system.

Several patrons, including parents, home-schoolers and business owners, described their frequent use of the libraries and the services the libraries have provided for their children, businesses and education.

"I truly love the library," said Greta Miller, a high school freshman who lives near the North Carroll branch. "Can you really afford to begrudge other children" these opportunities?

Greta was referring to the programs and materials the library provides for youngsters.

"Please don't [make these cuts], because the library is really important," she said.

The system, which has the highest circulation rate among Maryland libraries, has about 200 full- and part-time employees and an annual payroll of about $3.7 million.

Library officials have not said where staff cuts would be made, but Robert Sapora, president of the library board, said the layoffs would be devastating to staff morale.

Mr. Sapora said the 101,000 Carroll residents who have library cards see the libraries as a service that is as essential as schools, roads and other programs.

He and other library supporters last night were the first in a parade of county officials and residents expected to ask the commissioners to restore funds during a series of unprecedented night hearings over the next two weeks.

The commissioners, reeling from shortfalls in property and income tax revenues, are looking to trim $5 million from the county's $54 million day-to-day operating budget.

"This cut would make us mediocre; this cut would make Carroll County mediocre," Ms. Mielke said, adding that she was "incredulous" that the libraries would take such a "disproportionate" cut when the system is used by 80 percent of the county's population.

The library system, which includes administrative offices in Westminster and five branches, would endure some of the most severe reductions under budget-cutting plans.

The proposed cuts come at a time when circulation and demand for services at the libraries continue to grow.

"We're going to close one hour for every three hours we're open now," Ms. Mielke said. "We're going to lay off accordingly. Our meeting rooms will hardly be open for community groups, because there will be fewer hours available after our own library programs."

Library officials said they have no plans to cut purchases of books and other materials.

The system already has fallen behind in its collection because of budget constraints during the past four years, they said.

"The theory of our business is that we're in the business of books and materials," Ms. Mielke said. "We're in the business of getting information to people. Cutting materials would be like cutting our hearts. We'll do everything we can to avoid cuts to material and books."

Such cuts at public libraries are not unprecedented, although they are less common in growing suburbs than in troubled urban areas.

"Nobody has enough money," said George Needham, executive director of the Public Library Association, a national organization based in Chicago. "This is something that happened in a lot of places, like New York and Philadelphia, in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It's less common in suburban areas. A lot of library budgets took the cuts on the chin, and people got upset about it."

Cuts in library budgets have become all too common in Maryland, said Rocco Derosa, administrative assistant for the Maryland Library Association, noting that Baltimore and Baltimore County libraries have been victims of budget cuts.

For instance, Baltimore closed the central Enoch Pratt Free Library on Fridays, reduced hours at branches and cut its budget for new materials in 1993.

Nine libraries were closed in Baltimore County in 1993.

"People just don't know what happens," Mr. Derosa said. "The Pratt Library had to close on Fridays, and it was done with the thought that people would complain. But the library is still closed on Fridays. People forget."

Hearings also were held last night on proposed cuts in:

The Performance Auditing Office, which audits county management and other operations and would see its budget trimmed by $27,835, or 18.7 percent.

Information and Communication Services, which would lose $67,700, or 29.7 percent, from its budget.

The Department of Management and Budget, which is designated for a $3,765, or 2.8 percent, cut in its budget.

Pub Date: 3/13/96

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