Democratic Leaders In House And Senate Contribute $200,000 To Reopen Two Branches
By JEFFREY B. COHEN And STEVEN GOODE | Courant Staff Writers
September 10, 2008
Two branches of the Hartford Public Library will likely reopen next week after Hartford state legislators shook loose enough money to fill a $200,000 hole in the libraries' budget.
State Rep. Kenneth Green and state Sen. Eric Coleman worked with their Democratic legislative leaders to find the money — cash that they agreed comes as a one-time deal. Both men said they, and the community, were frustrated by the politics that had kept the Blue Hills and Mark Twain library branches closed.
"But even more frustrating was the knowledge that, during the time the libraries were … closed, there were young people on the street shooting at one another," Coleman said. "The kinds of activities that occur at a library are the things we want to see young people involved in."
Coleman and Green were able to persuade their Democratic leaders — House Speaker James Amann and Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams — to each contribute $100,000 from their respective $2 million contingency funds.
"I was familiar with the story when Ken came in," Amann said, adding he was "appalled" by the closings. "I was just amazed at a time of what's going on in Hartford with the violence that the libraries would close. ... It was to me a no-brainer."
The two library branches were shuttered in early July after it became clear that there was no money in the library's budget to keep them open. Eventually, the library's board said it could open all of the libraries on a reduced-hours basis if it had an infusion of $200,000.
So in mid-August, the city council voted to give the libraries that $200,000 — only to later be stymied by Mayor Eddie A. Perez, who said the vote violated the city's charter. He wanted the library's board to find the money in its own budget.
Green said that the back-and-forth left people in the community who had worked for the reopenings crushed.
"The community was even more devastated because they fought, they thought that they had won and had the libraries reopened, only to be told it was going to happen again," Green said.
On Monday night, the city council approved $50,000 for the libraries — but it wasn't enough to reopen them. On Tuesday, the news of the one-time $200,000 in state funds met with both cheers and a serious sense of the work ahead to make sure this situation doesn't happen again.
"I'm thrilled, I'm thrilled because we seemed to be at an impasse," library board President Geraldine Sullivan said. "The council really worked hard to help us find a solution, but there were roadblocks. ... This is a way that gives everybody time to reassess how the city wants to fund the library, and at what level, and how we're going to proceed."
Sullivan also said that all of the city's libraries will operate with reduced hours.
Longtime library board member William Large said Tuesday that he was happy for the neighborhood residents affected by the closings. But he is concerned that the latest development is a just a financial band-aid.
"We're going to start the budget process for next year in the fall, and I don't know how we're going to keep those branches open," Large said. "I don't know how we're going to maintain our branch system."
Janice Flemming, lead community organizer with the Blue Hills Civic Association, said that the money is a testament to the people who fought for it.
"This shows that when organizing is at a high level in this city, real change can happen," Flemming said.
Susan Hood, a member of the Laurel Corner Neighborhood Association, had been readying a party to reopen the Mark Twain branch last month when plans were scuttled and the doors remained shut.
On Tuesday, she was delighted.
"This is absolutely fantastic news," Hood said. "Not only for our neighborhoods, but it's a victory for the library system."
And she's ready for a party.
"Oh, yes, we're going to have a blowout, a very nice one," Hood said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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