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Gaston County May Close Six Public Libraries

Gaston County may close down six of its public libraries this year to make up for a budget shortfall. That's part of the spending plan the county manager recommended Thursday. The county made it through last year without having to close any libraries or cut any hours. But county budget administrator Bryant Morehead says this year is different - revenue is down even more. "Because so much of our budget is mandated from the state or federal government, we have to cut where we can," Morehead said. "You hate to say it, but the libraries are one of the services we provide that's totally discretionary. You're not going to reduce the number of rescue squads." The plan proposed Thursday to Gaston County commissioners would axe the Bessemer City, Dallas, Lowell, Mount Holly, Stanley, and Union Road library branches. And it would cut the hours the Belmont and Cherryville branches are open in half - to only three days a week. The county's main library on Garrison Boulevard would maintain its normal hours. Cindy Moose is the Gaston County public library director. She says 200 or more people come through the doors at the larger library branches every day, and at least 100 people a day use the smaller branches such as Bessemer City and Dallas. Moose says many residents depend on the libraries for Internet access, often to search for jobs. "Given the economic situation and the cost of gas, many of these people would not be able to come to Gastonia to the main library on regular basis," Moose said. "I think that this would just be another frustration in what is a particularly difficult time for people." The county board of commissioners will discuss the proposed budget Tuesday, May 31 and will hold a public hearing about it on June 9.