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Residents react to potential library closure

By Leah Linscheid, llinscheid@wkbt.com
Published On: Sep 16 2013 06:44:46 PM CDT
Updated On: Sep 17 2013 11:02:49 AM CDT
South Community Library La Croses

WKBT, News8000.com

LA CROSSE, WI -

One of La Crosse's library branches may soon close its doors for good as the Library Board addresses budget shortfalls.

Love for La Crosse's south side library branch was in no short supply Monday as residents rallied around it to protest the facility's potential closure.

In response to a $268,258 budget deficit for 2014, the Library Board voted Thursday to recommend closing down the South Community Library on 16th Street. According to Library Director Kelly Krieg-Sigman, the board had been addressing budget shortfalls by borrowing from the library's reserve fund for several years. She said that option is no longer prudent, as the fund becomes more and more depleted. Krieg-Sigman added the reserve fund was never a long-term funding option.

"It's not just about 2014," she said. "It's 2015, 2016, 2-17 - the question is the long-term sustainability of maintaining three locations within the city of La Crosse."

Compared to other Wisconsin cities of comparable size, La Crosse is the only community to have three library branches, according to Krieg-Sigman. She cited Madison and Milwaukee as the only other cities in the state to have as many locations.

Librarians presented two recommendations to the city Library Board last week. The first would have saved $165,000 by reducing hours at both branches, cutting part time hours and material budgets, and reducing or eliminating three full time and one part time position at the main library.

The second option saves more than $235,000 by closing the south branch, cuts the materials budget in half, and reduces or eliminates two full time and one part time position at the main library.

Library Budget Cuts Option #1
Total Savings: $165,009
-Branch Hours Reduce to 20/week from 45/week
-Part Time Hours Cut
-Materials Budget Cut
-Reduce/Eliminate 3 full time and 1 part time position at Main Library

Library Budget Cuts Option #2
Total Savings: $235,268
-Close South Community Library
-Materials Budget Cut
-Reduce/Eliminate 2 full time and 1 part time position at Main Library

Last week, the Library Board recommended the second option because it saves more money and keeps resources at the main library where there is heavier traffic.

Community members reacted with anger at the prospect of closing down the south branch, saying it would have a devastating impact on the community.

"Everything I know about neighborhoods says  facilities like public libraries are critical to the long-term stability of the neighborhood," said council member Sara Sullivan.

Sullivan spoke to a crowd outside the library branch Monday afternoon, rallying support against the board's recommendation to close it.

Community members weren't the only ones opposed to closing the library location. Mayor Tim Kabat announced his opposition to the recommendation, saying he was against closing any library branches in the city. Krieg-Sigman herself also denounced the option.

"It'd be wretched. The impact of closing a branch is wretched. It is wretched psychologically, it is wretched financially, it's wretched from the sense of work flow," she said.

The Library Board was presenting its 2014 budget proposal to the city's Board of Estimates Monday night. That proposal included shutting down the south side branch.

Mayor Tim Kabat said he hoped city officials would be able to find a short-term solution to address the 2014 budget deficit in order to give them more time to make the libraries more sustainable in the long term.

"I think we're probably going to have to look at partnerships to see if there are ways that we can work between the neighborhood group, the school district, some of the businesses and other users of the library to see if we can come together with long-term funding," Kabat said.

According to Krieg-Sigman, the decision to close South Community Library is far from being certain. The city will hold a series of public hearings throughout October to address its budget as a whole, and Krieg-Sigman said she has requested a special hearing specifically for the future of the south side library branch.

"The closing of South Branch Library is not imminent," she said.

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