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Library Task Force Makes Case To Commissioners For More Money

A task force that's been mulling the future of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library system made a pitch to county commissioners last night for more money. Three commissioners said they want to try to do that. But most commissioners just asked a lot of questions about the group's recommendations. Task force chairman Jim Woodward delivered the pitch to county commissioners last night. He told them an extra $2 million would allow the library system to expand hours at the county's six larger, regional branches like Independence and South County, while keeping service the same at the smaller, community branches. But if the money's not there, Woodward said the library system should instead focus its resources on the regional branches and close many of the smaller libraries. "You wouldn't build a building to operate it 32 hours a week. That's what we're doing with our branches. That's an inefficient way of using that facility and the staff," said Woodward. "As much as it would really, really hurt me personally and those that are served by a branch, but that's what you have to do." Several commissioners wanted to know which branches should close if the extra money doesn't come through. The task force advises keeping three branches open - Scaleybark, West Boulevard, and Sugar Creek - because they serve low-income neighborhoods. But Commissioner Dumont Clarke said he doesn't think it'll come down to choosing between branches. "If we can't come with $2 million for our library system, I don't think we should be here," said Clarke. "This whole question about closing and what stays open and what doesn't, I think, will become moot. I trust that it will, if this board acts responsibly." The recommendation to close several community branches isn't a new idea. Last year, when the county cut the library system's budget to make up for a shortfall, the library board decided to close all the smaller branches. But there was a lot of public outcry and library officials reversed their decision. "I think the difference between last year and this year is that we now have hard data to back up some decisions that we can now make jointly with our partners, the county commission," said library board chairwoman Robin Branstrom. Branstrom attended last night's meeting with the rest of the library board. County commissioners are in the early stages of discussing the budget which begins July 1st. County officials say they don't expect to make big cuts, but neither do they plan on having much money to spare.