Budget cuts force Hammond to close library branches
By Christin Nance Lazerus firstname.lastname@example.org September 27, 2011 9:00PM
Updated: November 11, 2011 4:11PM
HAMMOND — The Hammond Library Board reluctantly voted to close the E.B. Hayward and Howard library branches Tuesday night despite passionate opposition to the budget-cutting plan.
The meeting room was packed with about 80 people who spoke about the importance of the branches as a safe place for children and a meeting place for those in the community.
Hessville resident Susie Morris said libraries provide vital resources to kids that may not have computers at home.
“This will just break my heart,” Morris said. “There’s so much we’ve lost throughout the years in this city. Why do we not hear about financial problems until the decision has already been made.”
The board said that the closures — which go into effect Nov. 1 — were unfortunate but a financial necessity because the circuit breaker’s caps have forced the library to cut $801,000 from its 2011 budget alone.
“We’re not happy about it, but it’s something we’re forced to do,” board president Paul Taylor said.
The library receives 93 percent of its revenues from property taxes. The closures save $500,000, but Taylor said he expects the state to cut the $4.8 million budget in 2012.
Board members said they had looked elsewhere for additional funds, but the city wasn’t willing to part with any of its casino funds, federal and state grants weren’t readily available, and the county’s levy freeze leaves no option for the library to levy higher taxes.
“We knew about the shortfall about three years ago, and we made drastic changes, such as no new hires,” Taylor said. “We’re doing what we can to keep the libraries open. The frozen levy and the tax collection combined to give us a much larger deficit than we thought when we found out in July.
“We can’t spend money we don’t have.”
Several residents suggested possible fixes, such as charging fees for a library card or putting the main library and branches on reduced schedules.
The board considered putting the branches on a reduced schedule, but the amount of hours would not have reached the 64 hours per week required by the Indiana Library Association. Thus, the library could have run the risk of losing more funding.
Board member Allan Zlatarich said the closures are painful for everyone involved.
“We’re still in a hole even after cutting the branches,” Zlatarich said. “The property tax caps directly affected this.”