Library budget cuts upset advocates

Library budget cuts upset advocates

When Roxanne Henkle, president of Friends of the Willowbranch Library (FOWL), read through Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry’s 378-page 2017-2018 proposed budget, she got a sinking feeling when she saw what was slotted for the Jacksonville Public Libraries.

While funding for “same level of service” (salaries, contracts with security, etc.) was approved with slight modifications to the budget request, the line item for library materials was slashed by 14 percent, over $485,000 less than what the JPL received last year. The proposed materials budget, which includes books, DVDs, e-books, audiobooks and databases, is just under $3 million, less than the 2005 budget for printed materials alone.

“Council gave us a one-time bump of $500,00 for materials last year, so that money wasn’t ‘renewed’ this year in the mayor’s budget. Plus, the state cut $150,000 for next year that it usually gives us,” said Ruth Ann Hepler, FOWL board member. “Overall, the materials budget has decreased 56 percent since 2005, so even with last year’s bump, we are still way behind the curve. That’s why we’re asking for an additional $850,000 this year (more than what the mayor’s budget proposes) for materials.”

The nine Friends of Library groups held a press conference Aug. 8 at the Main Library on Laura Street to protest the slashed budget and to request $850,000 for material funding as well as restore Monday hours for nine branches, including Murray Hill, San Marco and Willowbranch libraries. The investment to restore Monday hours is calculated at just over $1 million by the Friends groups.

“There have been discussions from leaders stating, ‘Well, you have Library of the Year, why do you need funding?’” Henkle shared, lamenting the loss of the state-funded Career Online High School, a line item Gov. Rick Scott had vetoed after JPL submitted its budget.

“We need to educate our city leaders of the importance of the library,” she said. “Funding for achieving a high school diploma, not a GED, has been removed. This is a great loss. The program allowed for participants to have mentorship while in this program.”

The state-funded program provides scholarships and there none available for over 130 students, who are enrolled and have 18 months from their acceptance into the program to complete it and graduate, according to Chris Boivin, JPL assistant director of community relations and marketing. “We are working to secure other funding sources to keep the program going,” he said.

By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

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