A $500,000 cut to the Mobile Public Library (MPL) system’s budget could mean a reduction in force and a change in operating hours at area branches, an MPL spokeswoman said.
Amber Guy, MPL public relations officer, said library officials are hopeful the Mobile City Council can move money around in Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s proposed budget and restore the library system to level funding. The library joins a long list of groups asking the council to make adjustments to the fiscal year 2019 budget document.
The administration has defended the library cuts as a way to bring its funding of the facilities inside the city limits more in line with what Montgomery spends on its system. Mobile currently provides $7 million to the system, the county gives $1.5 million and the rest of its $9.5 million budget comes from state aid and federal grant dollars, Guy said.
While Montgomery does give less funding to its libraries, Guy said Mobile’s system has a larger population within its service area than its neighbor to the north.
The Mobile Public Library’s “legal service area” has a population of 372,882. The Montgomery City-County Public Library has a service-area population of 226,519 and an operating income of $4.9 million.
Montgomery’s libraries are also open fewer days and have reduced hours compared to Mobile.
“Montgomery has only three libraries that are open on Saturdays and those hours are 9 [a.m.] to 1 [p.m.],” Guy said. “All others are closed on Saturdays and are only open from 9 [a.m.] to 6 [p.m.] during the week. Only three have Saturday or weekend hours.”
In contrast, every branch in the Mobile Public Library system is open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays. Hours vary by branch during the week, but many are open until 6 p.m. or later in Mobile.
“All of our libraries are open at least two evenings a week plus Saturday,” Guy said.
The Trinity Gardens Community Library is the only exception to this. It’s open at special times and is stocked only with books on area elementary schools’ reading lists, Guy said.
A cut of $500,000 to the libraries would have a substantial impact on services, Guy said, though the library’s board would have the final say on what cuts would be made. Making a bad situation worse, Guy said, is that state funding is tied to local funding.
About 30 percent of MPL users live in the county, but most work in the city and almost all do their shopping in Mobile, Guy said. Funds from the city budget only fund the library branches within the city limits, she said. Other libraries are funded completely by the county, except for the branch in Saraland, which is funded by that city’s budget.
The council will consider this and other requests at a meeting of the budget task force scheduled for 2 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 18, in the conference room on the ninth floor of Government Plaza.
“Since the mayor recently released his budget, council members have received a large amount of feedback from citizens concerned with the proposed cuts to cost centers and performance contract programs which receive crucial funding from the city,” a statement announcing the task force reads. “Many of these proposed cuts were the subject of comments at last week’s public hearing on the budget.”
The task force, which is different from the council’s finance committee, includes Councilman Fred Richardson, Councilman John Williams and Councilwoman Bess Rich. The group is working to address concerns with the budget and has requested key information from the administration, according to the statement.
“Given this is very basic information and they have just completed the budget process, I’m hopeful it will be passed along quickly,” Richardson said in the statement. “With that said, if for some reason they do not produce it in a timely manner and we are forced to delay passing the budget by the end of the month, it will in no way disrupt city operations.”
If the budget is not approved by the City Council by the start of the new fiscal year Oct. 1, the law that established the city’s current form of government, known as the Zoghby Act, allows for the city to operate under the previous year’s budget.
The council voted down a $149,750 contract with Found Design for a wayfinding signage program and streetscape design initiative. Councilman John Williams told his colleagues that with the proliferation of GPS devices, signage is not as important as it once was. Rich and Manzie each said they wanted to use the resources on other budget items.
The council approved a $700,000 agreement with the Alabama Department of Transportation to begin the engineering phase of a widening project of Dauphin Street from Sage Avenue to Springhill Memorial Hospital.
The council delayed a vote for two weeks on a number of noise ordinance waiver requests for O’Daly’s Irish Pub, which is hosting an upcoming wiffle ball tournament and other events in the fall.
The requests range in times, but some waivers are set to last until 1 a.m. A downtown resident and a developer spoke to councilors Tuesday in hopes of finding a resolution.
John Peebles is a local developer involved in the Temple Lodge Lofts property downtown. With a complex of 16 apartments expected to come online soon, Peebles said he hoped to encourage O’Daly’s ownership to not use amplified music at the events.
“They do not have to have amplifiers the size of Volkswagens,” Peebles said. “I feel like we can get this resolved. I think if we can all get in the same room we can work it out.”
Council Vice President Levon Manzie, who represents the downtown area, said he will try to schedule a meeting between the parties.
Councilman Joel Daves said the request seems to be “extreme in the number of days and in the lateness of hour.”
“I hope they can work something out,” Daves said.
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