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Tacoma: Library board expected to decide on branch closures, budget cuts tonight

Post by Lewis Kamb / The News Tribune on Dec. 15, 2010 at 5:44 am with 33 Comments »
December 14, 2010 7:58 pm

The Tacoma Public Library Board of Trustees is expected to adopt a $24.7 million budget tonight for 2011-12 that could result in closing one or more library branches and reducing hours of service at the city’s Main Library downtown.

“I don’t want to close any library — I never want to,” Trustee Anne Seago said at a meeting earlier this month. “But I don’t see that we’ll have a choice.”

Facing a nearly $1.9 million shortfall for the next two years, the options facing the five-member board are grim.

For the past month or so, trustees have considered various cost-cutting models, several of which feature reducing the Main Library’s hours of operations by up to 12 hours per week and shuttering from one to three small and/or medium-sized branch libraries around the city.

In addition, other unidentified administrative cost-cutting would also have to be made under some scenarios. (We wrote about some of the options being weighed here.)

Previous board discussions suggest the Swan Creek Library on the Eastside and the Martin Luther King Jr. Library in Central Tacoma are in the most danger of closing.

The board also has discussed a wait-and-see approach — what Library Board President Tony Hudson has called “kicking the can down the road” — that involves holding off on making significant cuts or branch closures in hopes the economy will turn.

But Library Director Susan Odencrantz and some trustees have warned that option risks having to make even deeper cuts down the road if the financial picture doesn’t quickly improve.

The board has yet to take any official action, but unofficially each trustee has revealed personal leanings about how to address the budget hole.

All trustees appear to agree that Main Library hours will need to be cut. Reducing operations by 12 hours per week could save up to $1 million over the two-year budget cycle (trustees have yet to indicate whether they’ll support an option to add back four of the hours eliminated from weekday shifts to create a new and less-costly Sunday shift).

Even should the board opt to cut the Main Library’s hours, that still leaves a nearly $900,000 shortfall to deal with. Among their considerations, trustees have examined various branch closures based on staffing, location, usage, collections and capital maintenance needs.

It’s clear that none of the trustees want to close any library. But at a special meeting on Dec. 1, all five board members indicated leanings toward closing from one to two branches.

Two trustees — Seago and Hudson — said they were leaning toward closing two small branches: Swan Creek and MLK. More than one branch closure is likely necessary, they said, to create a sustainable budget plan.

“I do think we need to reduce our footprint and prepare ourselves for the new normal,” Hudson said. “It behooves us to make a tough decision.”

Two other trustees — Jack Connelly and Lillian Hunter – said they are leaning toward closing only one small branch (likely Swan Creek), then waiting to see if other closures are necessary based on future economic circumstances.

“We close one, then we evaluate where the city budget is before closing another,” Hunter explained.

If trustees do decide to shut down Swan Creek, they suggested examining ways to relocate the branch’s Literacy Center elsewhere. The center, operated in partnership with the nonprofit Tacoma Community House, offers homework help and classes to improve patrons’ literacy, language and computer skills.

Meanwhile, Trustee Julio Quan, who said the city’s low-income communities need and depend on public libraries the most, suggested if forced to make a choice, he’d close the Wheelock Library in the city’s more affluent North End.

“Where are we going to make the least damage,” Quan said of his thought-process.

Shuttering Wheelock seems highly unlikely. Odencrantz has noted the large regional library is the city’s busiest branch other than the Main Library. It was not among the branches she has recommended to consider for closure, should trustees opt to go that route, and no other trustee has publicly mentioned closing Wheelock.

Whether the trustees’ leanings have since changed or they’ve come up with other alternatives remains to be seen.

Tonight’s regular board meeting is set for 5:30 p.m. at downtown’s Main Library, 1102 Tacoma Avenue South.

The library board has put off making the grim budget decisions so far in hopes the Tacoma City Council would come up with more money for the library than the $24.7 million appropriation recommended in City Manager Eric Anderson‘s 2011-12 general fund budget. But the council approved Anderson’s budget last week, leaving city library funding unchanged.

Earlier this year, the council opted to dip into its own contingency fund and directed Anderson to make cuts in other areas rather than take his recommendation to cut $588,000 from the library’s budget as a way to help the city close a gap in the 2009-10 general fund budget.

Considered a sub-agency to the city, the library works differently from other city departments in that the city manager doesn’t have the authority to revise its budget. Under state law, only the council can set and revise the library’s appropriation, with the council-appointed library trustees charged with deciding how to spend it.

Leave a comment Comments → 33
  1. troublemaker says:

    So why is it that the Pierce County Library System is entrepreneurial, nimble, strategic and busy planning for the future, while the Tacoma Library system sems to be continually mired in closing branches and complaining about the level of City support? What is it about being on the other side of the City boundary line that produces such a different result?

    And why do four of the five Trustees think that shutting “smaller branches” (which just happen to be in less affluent parts of town and which just happed to have the lowest achieving schools and the most ethnically diverse populations in the City) makes sense? Where do those four Trustees live?

    Maybe Tacoma should subcontract the operation of the Tacoma Library System to the Pierce County Library system. Tacoma residents, especially our young people, deserve better.

  2. tree_guy says:

    “But I don’t see that we’ll have a choice.”
    library trustee Anne Seago

    Well Anne, you do have a choice. You could maintain existing service levels by making proportional decreases in pay for librarians. Your job is to serve the public and the taxpayers, not the librarians union.

  3. nonstopjoe says:

    Either shut down the library system entirely or convert to paid memberships – perhaps $2 per month per person payable automatically by credit card.

  4. DrWernerKlopek says:

    I agree with Julio Quan on this one. Close Wheelock library. The poor and middle class had taken the brunt of this recession brought on by the rich. Forced austerity measures, reduced wages, elimination of safety nets. Closing Wheelock would be one way for the rich to take their “haircut” because we all know they don’t pay their fair share of taxes.

  5. “Either shut down the library system entirely or convert to paid memberships – perhaps $2 per month per person payable automatically by credit card.”

    That kind of defeats the original purpose of the library system.

    At any rate, 2 bucks per person wouldn’t cover the cost. The total population of Tacoma is 193,556. At 2 bucks per person, that’s only $387,112.

    When you look at the real cost per person, shutting down a couple of libraries isn’t such a bad idea.

  6. “So why is it that the Pierce County Library System is entrepreneurial, nimble, strategic and busy planning for the future, while the Tacoma Library system sems to be continually mired in closing branches and complaining about the level of City support?”

    Pierce county has a dedicated property tax that funds the Pierce county libraries, .470743 cents per $1,000 of property value. Most Pierce county residents are paying up the Wazu for library service. So they should have great service.

    They also don’t have 10 libraries in an area of only 62.6 sq. miles, 50.1 sq. miles if you only count the land.

  7. nonstopjoe says:

    Rather than closing branch libraries, close the main library to patrons – but keep it for administration and as a clearing house for books.

  8. “Closing Wheelock would be one way for the rich to take their “haircut” because we all know they don’t pay their fair share of taxes.”

    Not everyone is rich in the North end and West end of Tacoma. At any rate, the property values are higher here so they pay more in property taxes then the folks in the East and South end of the city. So they pay more per person, in some cases more then 6 times what the folks in the South and East side of town are paying.

    Secondly, if you close Wheelock, you remove some of biggest supporters of the library system. It doesn’t seem very smart to slug your biggest supporters in the gut.

    Thirdly, the wealthy in the North end have contributed some pretty big money to the library foundation. The foundation helps to buy materials for the library, including the libraries in the poorer parts of town.

    Fourthly, it’s less than 1.5 miles from Swan Creek to Mottet. and the King library is located in a real weird location. Anyhow the other 8 libraries are accessible by bus, car or walking.

    Fifthly, the Tacoma Housing Authority has plans for a training, education, retail, and library building.

    Sixthly, it doesn’t make a lot of sense closing the second most used library in the system.

  9. “Rather than closing branch libraries, close the main library to patrons – but keep it for administration and as a clearing house for books.”

    You loss access to the rare book collection, a few of these branch libraries are really too small for services of a modern library, you lose the meeting room, you lose the computer training area, you still have to maintain and heat the building, and the homeless won’t have a place to go.

    Closing Swan Creek and King makes more sense if you need to cut costs.

    Plus if the Tacoma Housing Authority builds their building, then Swan Creek may make a comeback, although Swan Creek and Mottet are located too close to each other.

    Right now, Mottet’s the nicer library.

  10. turtlebutted says:

    fatuous, the library is not funded by property tax, it’s funded by sales tax. If you knew how much it cost to put rims on a Cadillac then you’d know how much the poorer neighbor hoods put into the library. Also, there are at least 2 buses that go to the King library verses I think only one to Swan Creek and Mottet and King vastly out circulates both. And THA doesn’t have plans for anything. They have no money. They want the library and city to pay for all their “plans”. And by the way, closing Swan and King won’t save the library any money. Layoffs save money.

  11. “Closing Wheelock would be one way for the rich to take their “haircut” because we all know they don’t pay their fair share of taxes.”

    Theres that class envy so popular thats trotted out by the demorats, the rich as you put it pay a higher percentage than do the poor or middle class, heck 40% of americans dont pay anything at all

  12. “trustees have yet to indicate whether they’ll support an option to add back four of the hours eliminated from weekday shifts to create a new and less-costly Sunday shift”

    How could a Sunday shift be less costly when according to the union contract library employees get paid double time for Sunday work?

  13. takhoman says:

    For editorial comment click the link below:

    http://www.thenewtakhoman.com/

  14. Lewis Kamb says:

    takhoman asks:

    How could a Sunday shift be less costly when according to the union contract library employees get paid double time for Sunday work?

    From my understanding, the option proposes to greatly reduce the number of staff who would work on Sunday than typically work during a weekday shift.

  15. what are you putting that outdated link for? now shut up and get by bowling shoes, size 11 im putting them up cartoon boys posterior

  16. Julio Quan how did this communist get on the board?

  17. nonstopjoe says:

    Apply the concept of sub-area equity to library operations – i.e., money collected in the Wheelock district stays there, and so on. That would give each district’s residents a “say so” in how to operate their libraries, or not.

  18. m9078jk3 says:

    Who needs libraries anyways?
    They are obsolete relics of a bygone era.
    We have the Internet.
    Save the money close all the libraries and fire the librarians.

  19. The two libraries on the chopping block are the least-used branches. If the people in the east end wanted to keep their library open they should have demonstrated that desire by actually using the library. That area could definitely benefit from a library, but since they have one and they aren’t using it why waste the money?

    Keep the services where people use AND appreciate them, not where it sounds the most noble to offer them.

  20. turtlebutted says:

    ronniew that’s not entirely true. Swan Creek is the least used but King is not. Mottet is actually next, however, the library refuses to close it because the building was donated and closing would mean it would have to be given back. Also, the reason Swan Creek is so underused is because it has the smallest collection of all the libraries. Most of the book space has been taken away to make room for computers and Tacoma Community House. Plus Main is so close, most people in the area just go there.

  21. tree_guy says:

    Just keep the main branch open and staff with minimum wage employees. If people want to use the library just hop on a city bus. This proliferation of physical branches is a relic of a bygone era. The advent of the internet and the ebook is going to be the demise of the neighborhood library as we know it. Better to get ahead of the curve and close the branches now.

  22. turtlebutted says:

    Not everyone can afford the internet. And the library offers ebooks…for free.

  23. tree_guy says:

    “Not everyone can afford the internet.”

    Not everyone can afford a chain of neighborhood library branches.

  24. turtlebutted, You are incorrect. The Pierce county library system is funded with a .470743 cents per $1,000 of property value.

    If you don’t believe me go ask Dale, or look up a parcel number for a country resident on the assessor’s web site. Try this one 0319014054.

    Click on Tax/values. In the Tax Code Areas section, click on 515 for 2010.

    The county also has a sale tax that is for the parks in the county, including Point Defiance Zoo and Northwest Trek

  25. “Not everyone can afford a chain of neighborhood library branches.”

    The libraries are not dead from what I’ve seen at Wheelock.

    But the residents of Tacoma will get along just fine with 8 instead of 10 libraries. It’s not the end of the world folks.

  26. turtlebutted says:

    Pierce County is, yes. But TPL is not part of the Pierce County system. The Tacoma Public Library system is not funded by property tax it’s funded by sales tax.

  27. turtlebutted says:

    And I agree that Tacoma doesn’t really need 10 libraries. I just think they want to close the wrong ones.

  28. MLK library really is in a weird location. If you’ve never been there, it’s not actually on MLK or in the Hilltop neighborhood. It’s behind Allenmore hospital, next to a golf course and a busy intersection. It’s also super super tiny. I think the central area really might be better served by a book mobile that could serve kids closer to where they actually live.

  29. turtlebutted, Swan Creek is less then 1.5 miles for Mottet. And Mottet’s a much nicer library.

    Heck I’m an old geezer, and I can walk 1.5 miles Too lazy to walk up the hill, then grab the bus on 38th, get off at McKinley, walk 3.5 blocks. or wait for the connecting bus.

    King is located in a really weird location. It would be interesting to see just how many folks actually use it compared to the other branches.

  30. turtlebutted says:

    Swan Creek circulates less than 900 items a week on average. Mottet does a little over 1100. King on the other hand circulates almost 1900 per week. That’s 1000 items more than Swan Creek and 800 items more than Mottet. It may seem like a weird place for a library but it gets used. And it’s called King because it’s dedicated to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, it has nothing to do with the neighborhood.

  31. “And it’s called King because it’s dedicated to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, it has nothing to do with the neighborhood.”

    I knew that. I just didn’t feel like typing the entire name. I’m not sure where your neighborhood comment is coming from.

    It seems to me that you are making the case for closing Swan Creek and combining the circulation with Mottet.

    How does King compare with the rest of the libraries?

  32. turtlebutted says:

    jenyum said it wasn’t on MLK or in Hilltop, I was clarifying for them.

    Did I not just put the circulation for King, Mottet and Swan Creek? They are the 3 small branches. Swan Creek and King actually have the exact same building design.

    I’m not making a case for closing any of them. Though if you want my opinion I’d say close Swan Creek and either Kobetich or South Tacoma.

  33. DidYouConsider says:

    It’s all a matter of priorities.

    City employee wages and benefits are by far the largest expenditures in the city’s budget. The top priority is to increase wages and benefits at a maximum rate even if that means cutting back on libraries, fixing roads and other less important uses of the taxpayer’s money.

    It’s all a matter of priorities.

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