The city’s chief librarian said the mayor’s proposed budget for fiscal 2015 will stabilize operations, but she could really use almost half again as much staff if branch operation hours are ever to go from about 31 hours a week to nearly 40.
New Haven Free Public Library Director Martha Brogan and library foundation president Priscilla Dannies were the only two people who spoke up at the first public hearing on the proposed new city budget. The meeting, held Thursday night at Hooker Middle School, was short and sparsely attended.
Mayor Toni Harp released a proposed city budget of $506 million last Wednesday, which is about $2 million less than the previous year’s. (Read more about that here and here.) The proposed budget funds 42 full-time positions spread across the city’s main branch and four neighborhood branches at a cost of $2.7 million out of a total department budget of $3.9 million.
The proposed budget adds four positions to the department, including two full-time librarians. It represents a 4 percent overall hike in the department’s budget from last year’s.
Brogan (pictured) said over the last 15 years the library has seen a steady decline in its full-time positions, dropping from a high of 73 to the current 38. That has meant a decline in the number of hours that the libraries are open, with branch libraries open only three days a week. She said her proposed budget requested eight additional full time positions, and the mayor’s request provides funding for four.
She said ideally staffing would return to fiscal 2003 budget numbers, which supported 54 full-time staff positions. At that level of funding, branch libraries could be open five full days a week. Brogan said the city could get there by fiscal 2018 by gradually raising its spending on the city’s libraries to about 1 percent of the general fund budget.
Spending at that level would put it on par with the statewide average of 1.13 percent spending for libraries, and put the city closer to what is spent in Bridgeport, Stamford and Hartford. In fiscal 2013, New Haven spent 0.74 percent on its libraries, while the aforementioned cities spent between 1.35 percent and 1.5 percent of their general funds on library costs. That means the city spent just $27.67 per capita while the statewide average per capita was about $44.45.
To reach the 1 percent spending in a year, the library budget would have to be bumped up to about $1.2 million. Harp said in her State of the City address that she is committed to New Haven being a “City That Reads,” which would mean that 50 percent of the city’s students read at or above grade level, but made no specific mention about how the city might achieve that goal.
Dannies said that the foundation can raise money for everything but staffing. That money has to come from the city. But she said when you look at what other cities are spending on library services compared to what New Haven spends, something has to give.
“God knows I don’t want to pay more taxes, but this is important,” she said.
The next budget public hearing will be March 30 at 6 p.m. at Career High School’s auditorium.