Facing a public outcry, the Longview City Council on Thursday night partially backed off planned cuts in the public library’s budget.
Instead of a 25 percent cut, the library will get an 11.4 percent cut.
Councilman Steve Moon proposed the changes after nearly four hours of discussion and public comment on the city’s 2019-2020 budget. He said the council should spread out the cuts.
“I agree with the citizens of this community that we can’t hit (the library) that hard and that much to one department,” Moon said.
The council had been scheduled to adopt the $80.1 million 2019-2020 budget, which is an increase of about $3.6 million. But there were enough changes that the council moved the final vote to its next meeting at 5 p.m. Dec. 19.
As it stood Friday, it was unclear how restoring $561,000 to the library will affect plans to hire three fire department paramedics and one additional police officer, the city staff’s purpose in proposing the $1 million in library cuts.
Council members faced a standing-room only audience of citizens, most of whom supported the library. At least 30 people spoke during the meeting.
R.A. Long High School senior Delaney Morgan said she sent the council an essay she wrote on the importance of libraries to rates of literacy and student test scores.
Multiple speakers said the library is “more than books.” It offers educational programs for children, employment help for adults, cultural opportunities for the community and entertainment for senior citizens who have difficulty getting around, they said.
Donna McLain told the council it will be difficult to replace the eliminated librarians and services when budgets rebound.
“When Kalama had its flooding and the library and police headquarters were affected, I heard that (federal) funds were directed to the library with the idea that if folks weren’t at the library, they’d see them at police station,” she said. “The library enhances lives, whatever their circumstances.”
Retired minister John Steppert called the library “a service center” that meets the educational and social needs of the community.
“Many in our community, as evidenced by the turnout tonight, feel the library is one of our most valued resources,” he said. “Cutting the library budget would be a tragedy and create serious ill will among the members of our community.”
George Brajcich said he understood concerns about library budget cuts, but said other departments have faced cuts, too.
“I’m not justifying cuts. I’m saying other people have come before the council asking for money and they’ve been shut down, too. It costs money (to run the city),” he said. “The bottom line is there’s more to this budget than the library.”
Councilman Ken Botero, who called in to the meeting by speakerphone, prompted a burst of applause when he said the council should consider distributing the cuts among other departments instead of taking $1 million away from the library.
“I think the community has spoken, and libraries are a lifeline for the community,” he said. “I truthfully feel I was elected to listen to the people of the city and help them get what they need. And the citizens are really in tune with the benefits we get from the library.”
The council also faced vocal criticism at its Nov. 15 public hearing regarding its proposal to cut the library’s budget.
To trim $1 million from its budget, the library would likely have cut an adult literacy program called Fire It Up, the Koth Gallery, Northwest Voices, Culture Cards, book clubs and outreach in the Highlands. The city would also have cut five employee positions but maintain the library’s current hours of operation.
It was not known Thursday night how many of these programs and positions will be spared by the council’s change of direction.
In addition to adjusting library cuts, the council amended the two-year budget to include about $380,000 for an administrative fire battalion chief and non-wheeled fire equipment, and increased funding for Meals on Wheels from $11,000 to $22,000. The council supported about $500,000 in cuts to the prisoner room and board fund in the operating budget to offset those changes. Botero abstained from the vote, and Councilwoman MaryAlice Wallis opposed the change.
The council also supported $37,000 from the insurance reserve fund, which is separate from the general fund, for 20 AEDs in city buildings.
City staff will update the budget proposal and bring it back at Dec. 19 meeting, the council’s last of the year.
At the end of the meeting, Councilwoman Wallis thanked the community for its involvement in the process.
“It appears in many ways (the citizens) smarter than us. They know the answers, and they’ve spoken tonight,” she said.