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Push comes to shove in dispute over Wheaton Library hours
By Robert Sanchez | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 6/29/2010 12:09 PM | Updated: 6/29/2010 10:32 PM

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Wheaton City Council members are prepared to use their home-rule power to force the library to reverse its decision to close Fridays.

In a 4-3 vote, the council Monday directed staff members to draft a law that, if approved next month, would require the Wheaton Public Library to be open a six days a week during the summer and all seven days during the school year. The ordinance also would require the library to operate a minimum of four hours on days it's open.

Councilman Howard Levine said the goal of the proposed ordinance is to have library officials consider budget cuts that don't include closing Fridays.

"Everybody understands in the community that all of our departments have had cuts in staff - have had cuts in revenue," Levine said Tuesday. "But none of our other departments have decided they are not going to work a particular day. Public works didn't decide that it's going to shut down on Thursdays. The library needs to reflect the will of the council on this."

Council members have been highly critical of the library board since it announced the Friday closures were being implemented to make up for the loss of $300,000 in property tax revenue the city withheld to deal with its own budget problems.

"Their core service is to be open," Levine said. "And right now, they are not doing that."

The Friday closures were implemented because full- and part-time library employees have had their pay reduced by 10 percent and must take 26 furlough days this year.

Library board President Colleen McLaughlin said the library would need to raise an estimated $5,000 a day to be open on a regular Friday.

In recent weeks, library officials suggested Friday hours could return if the city restored about $150,000 in funding.

But city officials say they doubt Wheaton could afford to give the library that much money. They fear the state might reduce Wheaton's share of the state income tax - a move that could cost the city roughly $1.3 million a year.

McLaughlin said restoring Friday hours at the library without the extra funding isn't a simple task. She said other days would have to be shortened to make up the difference.

"The library board has all along said that we will continue to monitor our Friday closing decision and to change it if we find it's no longer the right balance," McLaughlin said.

In the meantime, McLaughlin said, she is "disappointed" that most of the city council "doesn't trust the library board to make the right decision."

Mayor Michael Gresk and trustees Todd Scalzo and Phil Suess all opposed drafting the mandatory hours ordinance.

Gresk said he believes the city already has enough control over the library board and doesn't need more. "I'm willing and eager to let them control what they see as appropriate for the library," Gresk said.