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Library supporters urge Ott to maintain hours

Friday, February 20, 2009 by Austin Monitor

Supporters of the Austin Public Library system used a town hall meeting Thursday night at the Mexican-American Cultural Center to ask City Manager Marc Ott to find some other way to trim the city’s budget other than cutting library hours. While City Manager and top members of his management team fielded questions on parks, health care, affordable housing, and police services, most of the people in the audience were there to speak out in favor of keeping libraries open.

 

“Please just know…from my point of view, the libraries really should be your last resort for cuts because of all the services they provide for the truly indigent,” said Diane Izzo. “My neighborhood has a lot of people who go there, especially in the evening, so cutting the evening hours was really a concern for me. It’s very, very important for our neighborhood.”

 

People from several different neighborhoods voiced a similar refrain. “A great many of the patrons of the Austin library system are somewhat marginalized. These libraries are a community center, and one of the mistakes I think we’re making is not allowing them to stay open but keeping Central open so long,” said Wade Porter. He also asked the City Manager to refrain from further cuts to library hours. “If I have added right…in the past year, if these proposed cuts go through, 25 percent of all library hours will have been eliminated. Where will that stop? If we have another bad year, will it go to 50 percent? What will be the tipping point where it doesn’t make any sense for the city to have a library system?”

 

Ott said he could not promise to hold libraries harmless from future cuts. “Part of what’s so frustrating about this is it’s so unpredictable. I don’t think anybody would have guessed two years ago that not only our city, but our country and the world would have found themselves dealing with such extraordinary conditions,” he said. “We anticipate having some tough decisions in 2010. Will that impact the libraries? It could. It isn’t something that I want to see happen…but we don’t have a lot of options here.”

 

Ott also said he had asked city staff to re-evaluate the plan for reducing hours at branch libraries on a staggered schedule throughout the week. “I said to these guys, let’s take another hard look at our libraries. Is there an alternative to what we currently have on the menu? And they’re working on that.” The list of proposed budget cuts will be presented again to the City Council next week, but the Council will not need to vote on the cuts. It is the manager’s job to decide what cuts are appropriate.

 

In addition to pleas to avoid cuts, some members of the audience also suggested areas where the city might be able to trim expenses. “I’m supporting the comprehensive plan we’re going through,” said David Kobierowski, “but we’re spending $1.8 million on the consultant and staff-related fees. So, I’m wondering if we should hold off on spending that much money and first focus on maintaining our libraries and our parks and recreation, and as the economy comes back up, spend money on a comprehensive plan.”

 

Ott said he would not be inclined to put the effort to draft a replacement for the Austin Tomorrow Plan on the back burner. “I think that the comprehensive plan is critically important to the long-term sustainability of Austin,” Ott said. “One of the benefits of having a sound and relevant comprehensive plan is that it helps you in guiding your expenditures so that you make more intelligent decisions on how to spend the money.”

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