Major library cuts may soon be reality

By Jim Piggott - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Closing libraries is one option being considered to plug a $61 million city budget hole. Right now, six library branches are in danger of being shut down because of budget cuts.

Save Our Libraries has turned in thousands of petitions to get a straw poll on the 2014 ballot asking voters to create a special tax to fund libraries.

"For nine years in a row, they've lost a lot of their budget," said Helene Kamps-Stewart, a Save Our Libraries supporter. "Last year, the budget, we lost a quarter of our services, and if the budget passes this year with the $2.4 million cut, we will have half of the services we had two years ago."

The budget crisis hanging over City Hall is threatening Jacksonville's public library system.

The mayor proposed cutting the library budget by 13 or 14 percent, which translates into a $2.4 million reduction for the Jacksonville Library Network.

"I don't want to make these cuts, you don't want to make these cuts. They are unacceptable," Mayor Alvin Brown said during a city council meeting.

Harry Reagan, of Friends of the Library, says this year it looks like the drastic cuts will happen.

"I understand people say they will always find the money and there is always this kind of threat," Reagan said. "The boy who cried wolf -- this time there might be wolf, and it's not just libraries by the way."

To comply with that budget cut order, the Board Library Trustees is planning to close six libraries -- Maxville, Brentwood, San Marco, Willowbranch, University Park and Beaches -- end Sunday hours at all libraries, reduce main library hours by eight hours a week and reduce the materials budget by $251,000.

"It would be a horrible disservice to this community and the kids," said Theresa Gonzalez.

"We are hoping the city council will reject the budget plan, demand some reallocation of priorities and monies to save the (Jacksonville Sheriff's Office), Fire Department, the libraries, Animal Care and Protective Services and Women's Crisis," said Eleanor Wilson.

"If we are going to have the kind of services we need and deserve, a tax increase, not a big increase, is going to be necessary," Reagan said.

That's an issue the council will begin dealing with Tuesday night. While it won't vote on a tax increase, it could set the idea in motion.

For some library patrons, that's not a bad idea, as long as the city prioritizes how taxes are spent.

"Where does the money really go, and what services are you using the current money?" Bobby Bass said. "The services you already have, what are you using that money for?"

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