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Cuts could lead to Friday closures for Wheaton library
By Robert Sanchez | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 3/18/2010 12:00 AM

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Wheaton Public Library may be forced to close on Fridays if the city pursues budget cuts for the second straight year.

Library officials say Friday closures would be "the only way" to make up for the $300,000 in property tax dollars the library stands to lose as part of Wheaton's plan to combat a projected $1.5 million deficit in the city's 2010-11 budget.

"To be fair to our staff and the public, having fewer operating hours is the way to go," library board President Colleen McLaughlin said.

The library implemented a variety of cuts last year after its funding was reduced by $300,000. As a result, it already is closed on Friday nights, department heads' salaries are frozen and there's less money to purchase books, periodicals and audiovisual materials.

Director Sarah Meisels said the library can't afford to cut many more resources because that's why people use the building. "The public expects to get something for their money," she said.

Any further cuts will have to involve staffing, she said. Full- and part-time employees might see their pay reduced by 10 percent and be required to take furlough days.

The closures are part of that because the building can't open to the public without proper staffing.

McLaughlin said the library already is closed on Sundays during the summer. She said more Sunday closures are likely.

The decision to be closed on Fridays was made, in part, because it's the least busy day of the week for the library.

But with the library averaging more than 50,000 visitors a month, officials acknowledge some people are going to consider the Friday closures an inconvenience.

"They are not going to be happy, I'm sure," McLaughlin said. "They've come to expect the library to be open and will be disappointed when it's not."

Residents have been showing up regularly at meetings to urge city council members to reconsider cutting the library's $4.2 million budget. They want the library to continue to receive $3.4 million in property tax dollars.

"Please keep in mind that the library is where every citizen can go - that every citizen can use," resident Carol Ford said to the council this week. "I'm here to ask you to fund the library."

Still, council members aren't making any promises to leave the library's funding levels unchanged.

Mayor Michael Gresk said the council must look at the big picture when addressing the city's financial problems.

"I understand that everyone feels their piece of the budget is the most important," Gresk said. "But they need to accept that we need to do more with less. It's time to be realistic."

Council members are expected to talk about the library's funding situation during an April 17 budget workshop.