Hammered by $2.2 million in budget cuts, the Houston Public Library system this month will reduce its hours by 28 percent — closing most of its 42 branches on Saturdays — and trim expenditures for library materials.
Reduced hours will go into effect on April 17.
Most libraries will now be open 51 hours a week instead of the current 71. In addition to the shortened hours, expenditures for books, recordings and other library materials will be cut by 6 percent.
[Library director Rhea] Lawson said 42 vacant staff positions will not be filled, resulting in a 9 percent reduction in library system staffing. Most of the lost positions are those of librarians and others who interact with the public. Additionally, Lawson said, a hiring freeze has been implemented.
The thing to remember is that this is the easy stuff. It’s when cuts to police and fire service have to be contemplated, as they will given that they make up over 60% of the city budget, that it gets hard. The next year or two are going to be a whole lot of no fun.
By the way, there were six letters to the editor yesterday bemoaning the library cuts. I’m a little surprised that it provoked that much of a reaction, but I’m not surprised that three of those letters said some variation of “how can the city cut back on libraries when it’s building a new stadium?” Of course, the city isn’t actually spending any money to build Dynamo Stadium – the Dynamo ownership is financing the construction. Generally speaking, it’s considered a good thing for a city when a private company pledges to spend $60 to $80 million on a construction project. The city did spend money to buy the land, but that was in 2008, and thus has no effect on this fiscal year. Indeed, when Commissioners Court approves the deal, one piece of that is that the county will reimburse the city for half of the money it spent on that purchase. Finally, the city created (and the county will create) a TIRZ that will be used for street and drainage improvements, some of which are needed for the construction. Those things don’t exclusively benefit the stadium, and again they aren’t on the books for this fiscal year. The point I’m trying to make here is that the Dynamo Stadium deal and the cutback in library hours have nothing to do with each other. This is a big disconnect, and it has the potential to be a political problem for people down the line.