The city council in Springfield Massachusetts has taken steps that will lead to the reopening of three branch libraries that closed because of budget cuts. But it is a stopgap measure that has library supporters looking for long term funding solutions. WAMC”s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill reports.
The Springfield City Council Monday night gave final approval to a 20 percent increase in the annual fee residents pay for curbside trash removal service. Under an agreement worked out with the administration of Mayor Domenic Sarno, $200 thousand will be diverted to the Springfield Public Library. Officials say the three now closed branches will reopen to the public in the fall.
The closing of the libraries, a consequence of the spending cuts ordered by the mayor to balance the city’s budget caused a public uproar. Library advocates mobilized with rallies , phone calls and emails to the mayor and city councilors. They argued the city’s 9 neighborhood libraries are integral parts of the city’s character and vital to efforts to improve children’s literacy.
Sean Murphy and his 4 year old son Jack started a Facebook page to save the East Forest Park Branch Library
Springfield City Councilor Timothy Allen led the effort to restore funding for the libraries.
The trash fee has proved unpopular since it was ordered by the former Springfield Finance Control Board several years ago. Councilors had voted two years ago to reduce the annual fee from $90 to $75. Now it will go back up to $90.
City councilor John Lysak was one of four councilors opposed to raising the trash fee to help fund the libraries.
Library system director Molly Forgarty said the $200 thousand dollars authorized by the city council and the mayor will pay for operations and staff salaries at the three branches for ten months. She said the library commissioners will form a steering committee to look into ways the libraries might become more cost efficient and explore other funding sources.
Forgarty said the Springfield libraries receive about 20 percent of their funding, roughly $1 million a year, from grants and private funds. But, that money is usually restricted for special programs, to purchase materials or capital projects, and not for operational expenses.