Hartford PL Budget Cuts Reduced

A $600,000 budget cut will force Connecticut’s Hartford Public Library (HPL) to eliminate 10 jobs and curtail Saturday hours at most branches, but swift intervention by Mayor Luke Bronin prevented an even steeper reduction that would have left the system with no choice but to close three of its 10 branches.
Hartford Public Library Main Street branch Credit: John Phelan https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18061497

Hartford Public Library Main Street branch
Credit: John Phelan

A $600,000 budget cut will force Connecticut’s Hartford Public Library (HPL) to eliminate ten jobs and curtail Saturday hours at most branches, but swift intervention by Mayor Luke Bronin prevented an even steeper reduction that would have left the system with no choice but to close three of its ten branches. Bridget Quinn-Carey, HPL’s new CEO, who joined the library in April, described a “very nerve-wracking two days” before Bronin announced that he would use his line-item veto to restore an additional $393,000 in library budget cuts added to the FY 2017–18 budget by Hartford’s city council. That second reduction caught HPL officials by surprise, Quinn-Carey said, and emergency scenarios were suddenly on the table for consideration. For a time, Quinn-Carey feared she would have no choice but to shutter the three branches, as well as more than double the staff cuts from an anticipated ten to 25. The libraries that would have closed, she said, were the Blue Hills, Camp Field, and Mark Twain branches, affecting three separate Hartford neighborhoods.

A two-day sprint

Library supporters mustered a last-ditch advocacy effort during that 48-hour window to help convince the mayor to hold the cuts at $600,000. “It was swift and it was intense,” Quinn-Carey said of the advocacy effort, which sprang into action after the city council amended Bronin’s budget, “and not just for the communities that were affected. The whole city really rallied.” A Facebook post warned of the impending branch closures and the resulting loss of services for children and their families. It urged patrons to lobby public officials to hold the budget cut at $600,000. Bronin used his line-item veto to hold the cuts to the previously announced level, and the council adopted a final $552.9 million budget on May 23. For FY17, HPL requested a contribution of $8.45 million from the city for its overall $10.6 spending plan. City coffers will instead provide $7.8 million, according to data provided by the library. HPL gets the vast majority of its funding from the city; of its $10.3 million FY16 budget, about $8.2 million comes from the city, Quinn-Carey said. There is no separate library millage. The new budget takes effect July 1. “What I tried to do in my budget is avoid a cut that would have required the library to close down neighborhood branches,” Bronin, a one-time member of HPL’s board of trustees, told Library Journal. “For this year, the budget is where is has to be.”

Tightening the belt

That’s not to say HPL isn’t still facing budget challenges in the short term. Quinn-Carey said ten staff positions have been eliminated, including three outright layoffs. The system, she added, now employs about 120 people, or 90 FTEs. Saturday hours, currently in effect at six of the system’s ten branches, will be pared back to just one location: the downtown facility on Main Street. Some branches will stay open a bit longer on weekdays, according to the plan unveiled this week to HPL employees. “At least that was the impact we anticipated,” the CEO said, confirming that most city departments were told to expect a significant cut when the budget process began. City officials made it clear this spring that Hartford faces long-term financial issues that remain unsolved by the 2017–18 budget. “Hartford’s budget challenges are far from done,” Mayor Bronin said. “The library does need to undertake a planning effort right now,” he added, exploring how best to allocate resources in the future as well as boosting other revenue sources such as fund-raising. Quinn-Carey said the $600,000 cut allowed HPL to act responsibly in a time of deep austerity and gave it time to conduct long-term planning on how to maximize resources and plan for future budget contingencies. “The library has to be part of the solution,” she told LJ.

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