6 Jacksonville libraries could close

Local libraries face $2.4M in cuts

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Local library lovers are saying "here we go again" as word comes that six Jacksonville libraries could close.

Mayor Alvin Brown says $2.4 million need to be cut from the library budget.

The library board of trustees met Thursday night and proposed a list of cuts, including closing six libraries, cutting programs, eliminating jobs and slashing hours.

On Friday, one group proposing a long-term solution to the cuts took action to fund the libraries.

The branches that could close are located all over town, including the beaches, Arlington, Riverside and San Marco.

Terri Nelson and her three kids spend a few days a week at their San Marco neighborhood library.

"Like today in the summer we usually go the the park first and then go get books for their summer reading list," Nelson said. "We're here a lot."

Nelson was crushed to learn her library may have to close because of budget cuts.

"I think a lot of people, politicians maybe, don't always realize how important libraries are," said Harry Reagan, of Friends of the Library. "I always say it's the thing they do that affects more people in a positive way more than anything else."

Reagan said the library board of trustees was forced to cut $2.4 million out of its budget at the mayor's request.

On Thursday evening, the board made the difficult decision to recommend closing the Maxwell, Brentwood, San Marco, Willowbranch and University Park libraries.

"This was the best plan they could come up with, I think," Reagan said. "It was very, very, very, very painful. More painful than any of the previous cuts to the library budgets, which have been pretty bad."

Programs like "story time" will also likely suffer.

The board also recommend cutting 41 jobs, reducing the library material budget and closing all libraries on Sundays.

"That's what I depend on a lot because I'm a stay-at-home mom," Allesha Everett said. "I like to bring them out and I don't like to see that they're cutting it, because then I have to find other things for them to do and I feel like this is very educational."

Last year, the library budget was slashed about $4 million. Seventy people were laid off and Sunday and Monday hours were cut at most branches.

On Friday afternoon, a group called Save Our Public Libraries Inc. delivered petitions to the Supervisor of Elections Office. The group is about halfway to its goal of getting a straw poll on the ballot in 2014.

It wants to see if citizens are interested in creating a special tax district to pay for the libraries so Jacksonville isn't faced with these deep cuts year after year.

But that effort won't change things this year. The City Council has to pass a new budget by October, and if it can't come up with the $2.4 million, many people could lose their neighborhood branch.

"We'd be devastated because we use it so much, and I grew up in the area, I was here a lot as a kid," Nelson said. "It's really the only one we go to."

Councilman John Crescimbeni, who is furious about the cuts, said he'll do his best to fight them, but he doesn't know where to come up with the money. Crescimbeni said the budget is so tight because so much money is going into police and fire pension contributions.

Reagan said those who are unhappy about the proposed cuts should call the mayor's office and members of the City Council.

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