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Wheaton Library seeks end to dispute over Friday closures
By Robert Sanchez | Daily Herald Staff

Wheaton Public Library board members are expected to vote as early as Monday on a proposal to reopen the facility on Fridays.

 

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Published: 7/15/2010 12:01 AM

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Wheaton Public Library board members are expected to reverse their decision to close the facility on Fridays in an effort to end a dispute with city officials.

"We all want this nonsense to end," said library board President Colleen McLaughlin, adding the panel could vote as soon as Monday night to reopen for four hours on Fridays.

The library board has been in hot water with city council members since implementing the Friday closures last month to make up for the loss of $300,000 in property tax revenue the city withheld to deal with its own budgetary problems.

To force the library board to abandon the cost-cutting move, Mayor Michael Gresk last week replaced one library trustee. And the city council is expected to vote next month on a proposed law that would require the library to be open six days a week during the summer and all seven days during the school year.

McLaughlin said she hopes the library board's concession will appease city council members and make the need for the proposed ordinance "go away."

"We want to mend fences and gain their cooperation," she said. "The bottom line is that they hold the purse strings. We have to find a way to work together to make our library the best it could be under the circumstances."

Councilman Howard Levine said he's pleased library officials have had a change of heart.

"I just wish the Friday hours would have been restored short of our needing to pass this ordinance," Levine said. "But I am looking forward to working with Colleen. We're all hoping that we can keep on working together for the citizens of Wheaton - and not have internal disagreements."

While the specifics still need to be finalized, McLaughlin said the proposal is to reopen the library from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Fridays starting July 30. That would be in line with city council members' desire that the library operate a minimum of four hours on days it's open.

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.

Restoring four hours on Fridays will require the library to be open an hour less Monday through Thursday. Tentatively, the operating hours on those days would be changed to 9:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.

"We are going to cut hours elsewhere," McLaughlin said. "It has to go hand in hand."

The only way Friday hours could be restored without losing hours elsewhere is if the city provided some funding.

Councilman Phil Suess says he believes there is about $120,000 in the city's budget that could be allocated to the library.

"The library is used significantly by people in this community," Suess said. "They basically have taken on a larger facility with no increase in staff. I think there ought to be additional money allocated to them to make them whole."

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

In the meantime, the city council must decide whether the mandatory hours ordinance is needed if the library's Friday hours are restored.

Suess, Gresk and Councilman Todd Scalzo all opposed drafting the proposal in the first place.

"I think it's important that the library be open on Fridays during the school year," Suess said. "If they can find a way to make that work, great."

Still, Levine said he believes the proposed ordinance is necessary and should go to a vote on Aug. 2.

"It ends the debate," Levine said. "It makes sure we don't ever have to revisit the issue again."