Hartford Council Reverses Itself, Will Reopen Two Library Branches
By STEVEN GOODE | Courant Staff Writer
August 13, 2008
In a surprising turnaround, the Hartford city council has decided to reopen two neighborhood library branches that were closed earlier this summer because of an $870,000 budget gap.
The council voted Monday to appropriate $200,000 to reopen the Mark Twain and Blue Hills Avenue branches, with the provision that they be reopened by Aug. 25, the first day of school in the city.
To keep the branches open until next July, when the fiscal year ends, library officials plan to cut operating hours across the system and close neighborhood branches on Saturdays.
"This was neighborhood activism at its best," library board President Geraldine Sullivan said Tuesday, referring to neighborhood groups and residents who kept pressing the issue with city and library officials since the branches closed in the first week of July.
"They worked hard."
Prior to Monday's turn of events, majority leaders on the council and Mayor Eddie A. Perez had been adamant that the library board would have to find funding sources other than the city to reopen the branches. The city also offered the services of its auditor to see whether savings were possible in the library's operating budget, which the board accepted.
The auditor's report is not expected to be completed until mid-September, but residents and some council members wanted the libraries opened now.
"I think the community expressed very clearly how important those libraries are to them. We should not be cutting services to youths," Sullivan said.
Council majority leader rJo Winch said Tuesday that the decision was a result of a resolution proposed by council minority leader Larry Deutsch to provide the library with $33,000 from the Civic and Cultural Affairs account.
Winch said she asked Sullivan at Monday's meeting whether that much money would get the branches reopened, and was told no.
"So I said, 'Tell me, what gets the key in the door?' and she said $200,000," Winch said.
Winch said she was skeptical that the library board would accept the proposal because it would mean reducing hours in all of the neighborhood branches, which she favored over shutting down two libraries.
"If they need to cut hours, the burden needs to be shared throughout the city, not just two branches," she said.
Winch, who expects to find cuts elsewhere in the city's budget to offset the library funding, said the key to getting the deal done was getting a guarantee that the branches would be operating no later than Aug. 25.
"Kids are starting school," she said. "I want them to have access to computers and other materials."
In a written statement released Tuesday, the library board, which voted unanimously to reopen the branches, expressed pleasure that the mayor and the council had restored partial funding that would enable the branches to reopen.
Sabrina Flintroy, a board member of the neighborhood group Hartford Organizing for Power and Equality, was also pleased with the council's decision.
"The libraries are so important in our neighborhoods. Many people cannot afford to go to the downtown branch. With the large number of children and adults with literacy issues, we really need access to the books and computers," she said in an e-mail. "This is a huge victory, and thank you to everyone who was a part of it."
But it was unclear Tuesday whether the resolution had Perez's support.
"We haven't had a chance to review what the council passed, but absent of additional tax increases and layoffs, the city is not in a position to provide additional money to the library beyond what council has already approved in the budget," Sarah Barr, Perez's spokeswoman, said in an e-mail Tuesday.
The library board's statement also outlined the hours of operation in the branches, beginning Aug. 25. The Twain, Blue Hills, Dwight, Barbour, Park and Camp Field branches would be open Monday to Thursday from 2 to 6 p.m., and Friday from 2 to 5 p.m. The Goodwin, Ropkins and Albany branches would maintain their current hours during the week, but also would be closed on Saturdays.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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