Library officials Friday night threw the book at Mayor Bill Finch’s proposed laceration of a city department that serves ordinary folks during good times and bad, urging the City Council’s Budget and Appropriations committee to restore the money necessary to maintain standing as one of the finest public library systems in the state.
Library Board member Tom Errichetti kindly shared some observations with OIB following the presentation that he and City Librarian Scott Hughes made to the budget committee at city hall.
“We expressed our concern that the proposed cut would most likely result in closing all branches and maintaining service only at Burroughs (the main library downtown) – and that there may be staffing issues there from time to time. We estimate it takes 20 persons to staff all 4 branches,” including Black Rock that has been closed for renovations.
“We also stated that the proposed cuts would hinder our ability to seek other outside contributions to augment the library collection – if people feel their donation will be squandered by irregular service or no service.”
Bob Curwen, co-chair of the budget committee, is sympathetic to the library plight. There is a movement afoot both politically and governmentally to find ways to restore library funding and reverse potential library layoffs. Finch’s proposed library budget slashes funding by more than $1 million from the current budget year and along with it staffing levels by one third.
There’s a growing sense within the city council and political community that Finch has taken an obtuse posture toward deal making to save the library and health care jobs his budget proposes to cut. The council’s independent viewpoint was cemented Monday night in the aftermath of the rage directed at Finch during the public hearing on the budget. Council members are looking at other departments to achieve savings through smaller, across the board cuts, and consolidation of services. One of the departments being looked at to consolidate under the chief administrative officer is the Bridgeport Port Authority that is charged with facilitating development opportunities and generating fees associated with the city’s port.
Just what the council will do independent of the mayor is unclear. The budget committee will go through a series of informational meetings with various city departments before voting preliminarily on the budget. The budget will go back to Finch the week of May 5 for action. The mayor has strong veto power over the budget. The council needs two thirds to override a mayoral veto.
Lurking in the background is Democratic Town Chairman Mario Testa who has a lot of experience working city budgets. Testa served for many years on the city’s Board of Apportionment and Taxation, the body that had budget-making juice before that authority was transferred to the city council about 20 years ago.
Right now the mayor does not appear to be in a schmoozing mood with the council. We’ll see what happens when the council returns the budget to him.