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Outcome of city lifeline to libraries still uncertain

The Charlotte City Council agreed to spend $1.5 million to help keep county libraries open for the next year. But the money comes with strings, and the library officials say they don't know yet what difference it will make. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library system would need an extra $8 million to keep the current libraries open at already-reduced hours for the next year, according to library officials. But the city and county have only agreed to pay $5 million. Library director Charles Brown says he's grateful for that, but the deal is far from done, because the city's contribution is contingent on contributions from at least four towns in Mecklenburg County. Brown says he's received preliminary commitments from two towns and is "cautiously optimistic." But even if all the money comes through, it will be less than the $8 million Brown asked for, and he says more libraries could close. "We're also looking to see if there's any way we can just further reduce hours and service offerings," says Brown, noting the system has already reduced hours at libraries by 40 percent. "And I know every community wants to retain their library if at all possible." Brown says the library board will look at numerous factors such as community income and library usage in deciding which facilities to close or cut back on. Next Tuesday, the County Commission is expected to approve a 2011 budget that reduces library funding overall by 35 percent.