Libraries could shoulder brunt of budget cuts

CITY HALL — Spending cuts for community services and libraries — including possibly closing two branches — so far make up a disproportionate share of the proposed $4.1 million in city budget reductions, according to preliminary scenarios circulating at City Hall.

The potential cuts are among a slate of proposals that the City Council is reviewing as they attempt to fill a looming $18-million deficit in the General Fund, which pays for basic public services.

It is the fourth consecutive year Glendale will face a major shortfall as the city continues to see rising employee pensions and health-care costs that are outstripping stagnant revenues.

An initial budget proposal calls for $4.1 million in service cuts to be made citywide based on which services were deemed “discretionary,” “priority” or “essential” by respective department chiefs — a departure from years past when they were each asked to come back with across-the-board reductions.

So far in the new process that ranks services by priority, department executives for public safety have proposed far less cuts, proportionately, than those in charge of parks and libraries.

Of the proposed service cuts, roughly 44% — or nearly $1.8 million — would come from the Library and Community Services & Parks departments, even though they make up about 10% of the General Fund.

Another $1.3 million of proposed cuts come from the larger Public Works Department, leaving roughly $1 million for the rest of the city departments, including police and fire, whose budgets dwarf those for libraries and parks. The Community Development Department’s budget is also relatively large, but its funding also comes from sources outside the General Fund, like redevelopment.

Community Service & Parks-sponsored penny carnivals, summer movie screenings, concerts and the annual holiday tree lighting are all on the chopping block for a total $1.3-million proposed cut to the department’s budget.

Also at risk are open-space programming at Deukmejian Wilderness Park, financial backing for the city's Rose Float, the day laborer work center and life-skills workshops for at-risk teens.

Included in the nearly $500,000 proposed budget cut to the Library Department are the closures of the Casa Verdugo branch and converting the Chevy Chase Library to a community center that would host fee-based programs.

Meanwhile, the city’s police and fire departments, which have combined budgets of nearly $113 million in the General Fund, had few programs ranked as “discretionary” and in turn have proposed minimal cuts, according to a preliminary draft budget document.

“It’s disproportionate,” City Councilman Rafi Manoukian said Wednesday of the proposed library cuts. “I understand it’s not a straight cut. It just doesn’t make sense.”

The Chevy Chase branch — which was previously on the chopping block in 2009, but saw minimal weekly hours maintained after community protests — saw only 5,260 patrons last year and made up less than 1% of the library’s circulation figures, officials reported.

“The reality is the only time the people are in the library in any significant numbers is when volunteers do programming. It really is not a fully functioning library,” Libraries Director Cindy Cleary said. “But the community does need and deserve some city service up there.”

The Casa Verdugo branch, which checked out about 55,000 items last year, would close completely, but could serve as a temporary location for the book collection from Brand Library and Art Gallery during renovations that could take up to two years.

Besides Manoukian, who made it clear he didn’t support the cuts to libraries, the City Council has said that the options are still preliminary, and that no firm budget decisions would be made until later in the process.

Cleary said the proposed cuts are designed to have as minimal effect on patrons as possible.

“Of all our libraries, it’s the one that probably would have the least impact because people would have an alternative place to go,” she said of the Casa Verdugo branch, which is about 2 miles from the main Central Library.

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