Library plans to restore hours at some branches

The financial picture for Indianapolis’ struggling public library system is expected to improve enough for leaders to consider restoring operating hours at 10 of its 23 locations next year.

In its 2012 budget, the Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library is proposing to restore eight hours per week at the downtown Central Library and each of nine township branches, including Glendale, Lawrence, Pike and Irvington.

That would help reduce the 26-percent cut in hours the system made last year to cope with money shortfalls by 6 percentage points, said Rebecca Dixon, the library’s chief financial officer.

“Obviously we would love to restore all of our hours,” Dixon said. “This is kind of a baby step in the process of trying to get back to where we were.”

The system saw patron visits drop 15 percent in 2010, to just more than 5 million, due to the shorter hours.

The library also plans to restore its funding for purchasing materials, which was cut last year. Its budget was presented to the library board last week but has yet to be approved by that agency’s body or the City-County Council, which this week begins hearings for the overall city-county budget and municipal corporations such as the library.

Next year’s proposed library budget would include an additional $408,000 in operating expenses. The library was expected to face a revenue shortfall of about $4.4 million next year but has found ways to fill that gap and have additional operating cash that will fund the added hours and new materials.

To do that, it’s proposing to transfer about $2.2 million in debt payments from the library operating fund to the debt service fund. Depending on assessed values, that could require an increase in the library’s tax rate to cover the expense.

The library also will receive a small sliver—one-tenth of one percent—of the city-county’s share of county-option income tax funds, providing a $150,000 boost. Library officials also are planning for reductions in other operating expenses, such as utility costs, and additional revenues from intergovernmental taxes, such as license and excise taxes.

Still, the library will have to dip into its operating reserves to make up the rest of the gap.

Dixon expects to use about $1.6 million of the reserves—an amount that fluctuates but typically hovers around 10 percent to 12 percent of the $38 million budget.

The library also saw a slight uptick of about $1 million in property-tax revenue, but that will offset a drop in local-option income tax revenue.

Jim Mulholland, who leads the Sustainable Library Citizens Coalition, called the small amount of additional funding a victory in a tough budget year.

But said he would have liked to see the restored hours spread across all locations, rather than just the township branches and Central Library.

Dixon said the locations chosen, which also include branches in Wayne, Warren and Franklin townships and areas such as Nora and Southport, were based on usage.

Mulholland said that won’t be much help to many Center Township neighborhood branches, which serve mostly low-income neighborhoods.

But he also worries that the partial restoration could give the public the false impression that things are back to normal.

“It would pretty much give people that use those large branches the impression that things have been solved,” Mulholland said. “People are getting used to this new reality and thinking that’s just the thing ways are going to be.”

The coalition, which vocally crusaded against a plan to close some library branches last spring, also is considering whether it should scale back its presence.

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