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Hammond mayor thinks library merger could keep the doors open

Updated: November 8, 2012 12:00PM



Two local legislators said they would consider Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr.’s proposal to merge the Hammond Public Library with the Lake County Public Library — but only if it makes financial sense.

McDermott has recently said he thinks the Hammond Public Library, which faces financial problems, should shut down and merge with the county instead of getting an $800,000 budget increase.

However, state law says that for two libraries to merge, both library boards would have to approve the merger.

McDermott says he is seriously planning to ask the Indiana General Assembly to side-step that process, however, by creating legislation at the state level.

“I’m going to pursue it,” he said. “Absolutely.”

Government efficiency

His plan started several weeks ago when the Hammond Public Library, which is its own taxing unit, asked the Hammond City Council for approval to increase its budget. McDermott objected, saying that if the library got a raise, the money would come entirely from the city’s revenues because of the levy freeze on Lake County government entities.

That’s not exactly how it would work, according to the Indiana Department of Local Government and Finance. The money would come from all the taxing units, about 74, in Lake County. The DLGF would also have to approve any budget increase. Jenny Banks, director of communications for DLGF, said the department wouldn’t make that decision before seeing the budget and what the maximum allowable levy is.

Meanwhile, McDermott said, Hammond residents could save money if their library shut down and became part of the Lake County Public Library, which serves most of the towns in Lake County. Some communities in the county have their own library systems.

McDermott said one area of savings would be in administrators, because Lake County already has its own administration in place and wouldn’t need Hammond’s administrators.

“Why isn’t Hammond, the largest city in Lake County, entitled to join (the Lake County Public Library)?” he said.

Quality of service

Ana Grandfield, director of the Lake County Public Library, disputed the costs savings, however. Although Lake County does spend less to run its branches than Hammond, she noted that LCPL branches are much smaller.

“You can’t compare the branch at Highland, with 24,000 people, to Hammond,” Grandfield said.

Another possible cost increase would be in services if the number of patrons the library serves goes past 250,000. The system has about 242,000 now, she said. Most services the library uses for buying new books and other items charge libraries based on their size.

Although Hammond residents might pay less in taxes, she said, the LCPL’s current patrons would likely have to pay more to take on Hammond’s costs. Otherwise, the system would have to cut services to afford everything.

“People in my district are used to a certain quality level of resources,” she said.

Part of Hammond’s financial problems comes from a $5 million bond it took out to pay for its library building, she said, which likely would not be taken on by the LCPL.

She added that no one from the city of Hammond or the Hammond Public Library has approached her about this issue. Although Grandfield voiced concerns about a full merger, she did say that perhaps the system could create a relationship with Hammond Public Library similar to the one LCPL has with the Lowell Public Library. LCPL provides some services to Lowell to help it keep costs down.

Even if services do go down, McDermott said, he would at least know the LCPL would keep the Hammond library’s doors open. He also objected to Grandfield’s concerns, saying the merger fits with the state’s goal of creating efficient government.

He also noted that Lake County wasn’t happy when Hammond shut its health department several years ago, sending all its residents to the county. That, he claims, now runs smoothly.

“You watch: We’ll merge it, and, a few years from now, it’ll be running as smooth as silk,” he said.

Merger effects

McDermott says he has not talked to any state legislators about his proposed bill yet but he would.

State Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon, D-Munster, says any bill that deals with finances would likely end up at the Ways and Means Committee, which she sits on. Whether she would support a bill, she said, would depend on if it made financial sense.

“I would have to look at whether it saves money,” Reardon said.

She also emphasized she wouldn’t want to make a sweeping mandate that doesn’t make sense for communities. Although she favors finding efficiencies in government, Reardon said, she wants to be smart about it and make sure it will actually work.

“I am a huge supporter of the Hammond Public Library, but I don’t think that consolidation should be pursued for the sake of consolidation,” she said.

One thing she would consider is how a merger would affect the levies for both Hammond and LCPLtaxpayers.

State Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, says he needs to find out more about the issue and see what the actual proposed bill contains.

“There’s always two sides to every story,” Smith said. “I’ll keep an open mind.”

The state representative would want to know how a merger would affect the administration and finances of both districts. He would also take into consideration his constituents’ thoughts on the issue.

Smith, who is not facing competition in the upcoming election, will start representing Merrillville, which is part of the LCPL, next year as part of his redrawn district.



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