Someone should direct Hartford city council president Calixto Torres to the city charter.
Mr. Torres complained this week that the council was being unfairly blamed for the closing of two Hartford Public Library branches. "[W]e have no control, but the community thinks it's the council, somehow, that is closing these libraries down," Mr. Torres told The Courant.
He said that he and the mayor are considering taking over the library system.
Please. The charter clearly states that it is the council's responsibility "to adopt the capital and operating budget of the city." If the council accepted this responsibility instead of being a virtual rubber stamp for Mayor Eddie Perez, it could find the relatively small amount of money needed to keep the two branches open.
The library's board of directors has acted responsibly. Its budget last year was about $8.4 million. It asked for nearly $9.3 million this year to maintain programs and services. It got $8.2 million, leaving a $1.1 million shortfall. Layoffs and program reductions got the deficit down to $870,000. To help close the gap by slightly more than $500,000, the board reluctantly voted to close branches in Asylum Hill and Blue Hills. Residents of those neighborhoods were outraged, not surprisingly.
Community pressure has brought a number of bad ideas from city officials, such as invading the library's endowment, but not a cent of additional funds. The library board understands that it cannot spend money it doesn't have.
The library doesn't control the city's purse strings. If the council wants the two branches open, it can find the money. The branches could be reopened with $500,000, a tiny percentage of the city's $547 million general budget. The city budget has increased by nearly $125 million in the past five years, from $422.4 million in 2002-03. Mr. Perez and the council seem able to find money for top priorities, some of which have been of questionable value to the city.
Budgeting is setting priorities. A glance at the reading scores on the recent Connecticut Academic Performance Test shows the city's first significant increases in years — for which it deserves praise — but only 11 percent of Hartford's 10th-graders reached the state goal. That suggests the library ought to be a major priority.
City officials don't need to take over the library — they need to pay for it.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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