April 28, 2011 at 1:00 am

Detroit library staff ordered to reduce number of branch closures

Detroit— The Detroit Library Commission today ordered library staff to come up with an alternative plan to close only 10 libraries by this summer.

That is far fewer than a previous proposal that would have seen up to 18 close.

Commissioners said they'd rather use more of the system's $17 million rainy day fund than take the drastic step of closing most of the library's 23 neighborhood branches.

"It is unacceptable," said Russ Bellant, a library commissioner said of the possible 18 closures. "It's just too much at once."

But library administrators came to the meeting recommending 15 closures, saying it was necessary to correct the system's financial problems. The library has an $11 million shortfall this year and is anticipating property tax revenue will drop 20 percent a year until at least 2015.

"As you use up your fund balance, you aren't going to have a safety net," Tim Cromer, the library's chief administrative officer, told the board.

The library's rainy day fund is now about $16 million. By only closing 10 branches, the library will have to use $7.7 million to balance their budget. With 15 closures, the library would have used $4.7 million of the fund.

Commissioners pushed library staff to look for other revenue and ways to cut, short of closing more branches.

"In my gut I believe we can drill down a little bit deeper," said Commissioner Jonathan Kinloch.

But Executive Director Jo Anne Mondowney said they've made all the cuts they can. She is proposing a 10 percent cut to staff pay and eliminating assistant branch managers, and is meeting with unions to propose concessions.

"To this point, we've cut almost to the bone," Mondowney said.

Critics maintain the library wasted money on a $2.3 million revamp of the main library's South Wing. Among the purchases were 20 $1,100 European-designed lounge chairs, 8 $1,100 stainless steel garbage cans and two $5,000 alcohol burning fireplaces.

Also, The News first reported in February that the library set aside $200,000 in taxpayer money two years ago to launch a $20-million fundraising campaign for construction projects. But less than $100 was raised.

The library is planning to announce public meetings in the next several weeks where residents will be able to sound off on the proposed closures. The commission would adopt a closure plan after the public hearings.

cmacdonald@detnews.com

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