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MAINE VOICES  [Portland Press Herald Op-Ed]
Library decisions not made lightly

Ten percent of the system’s staff are still scheduled to lose their positions.

By TAFFY FIELD and PETER MERRILL
 
May 31, 2008

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Taffy Field is president and Peter Merrill is past president of the Portland Public Library Board of Trustees.

Two recent editorials suggested that the Portland Public Library should have been able to cut $30,000 from its budget without closing any branches.

We wish it were that simple. The Press Herald also thinks that the library should have allowed enough time for a full public discussion before deciding to close the Reiche branch.

We also wish this was that simple. But the facts are more complicated, and the circumstances were not so generous.

Here’s why: In mid-January we were informed that the city planned to reduce our existing funding by $25,000. Doing that was as simple as the Press Herald suggests. We stopped buying books and other materials and froze staff training.

We were also told that we should expect flat funding for the fiscal year starting in July. This was confirmed in March.

Given the increases in fuel and health insurance, a modest salary increase for our staff, and cuts from the state and the county, flat funding meant that we needed to cut $175,000 from our budget.

In response, we set goals and principles to guide our decisions. Since 70 percent of our budget is personnel costs, there was no painless way to make the cuts. We needed to reduce the points of contact with the public in a way that would maintain quality.

We were relieved that we were able to do this without closing any branches. It came, however, at great cost to the fine people who work at the library: 10 percent would lose their jobs.

This tragedy has been lost behind the headlines about closing the Reiche branch.

These hard-working, faithful employees are going to lose their jobs through no fault of their own. We appreciate their service and regret their loss.

To reduce points of contact, we need to reconfigure the layout of our Main branch and reduce hours. We will have to close for two weeks to do this.

When we are done, the public computers will be on the ground floor, audio-visual will be on the main floor, and most of the children’s materials will be temporarily consolidated at the Munjoy branch.

New periodicals will be on the third floor where we will create a reading area. These changes (and others) will allow us to reduce the number of staff needed.

These are dramatic changes, but another shoe was about to drop. In early April, just weeks before the City Council’s public hearing on the budget, we were informed that we needed to cut an additional $50,000, pushing the total reduction needed to approximately $225,000.

We had protected the branches throughout this process, but could no longer do so. We were out of options and we were out of time.

The council’s Finance Committee recognized our challenge and restored $20,000, but to find an additional $30,000 on top of the cuts we had made would require a major cut the amount of money we spend on books. Although we hated the Reiche decision, we did not want to attack the fundamental quality of our institution.

We are grateful to the council and the city manager for keeping Reiche open another year.

This will allow for the public dialogue the Press Herald, the council and the library would like. We have just had the only kind of dialogue the timing of the budget process allowed.

We look forward to a broader, city-wide discussion of how we can best serve peoples needs given our financial limits.

The Portland Public Library was created in 1867 when the city of Portland proposed that a group of leading citizens make their private lending library available to all. In return, the city offered space and support.

That initial public-private partnership has developed into the finest library system in the state. While we face financial challenges, we are dedicated to maintaining the excellence of the library for all who use it.

— Special to the Press Herald

 

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Editorials [Portland Press Herald]
 
City should pressure library to carry through on planning

A one-year reprieve for the Reiche branch should be enough time to set priorities.

May 21, 2008

The Portland City Council got through a tough financial season Monday by passing a budget for next year that cuts services and increases taxes.

One of the most difficult issues was not one of the big-ticket items. It involved adding $30,000 to the $185 million budget to put off what one councilor called “the summary execution” of the Reiche School library branch, which had been slated for closure in a last-minute budget move.

The community will keep its library for one more year while library officials study the best use of their limited resources.

The way it occurred, however, points to a weakness in the way the city’s library system is funded.

The Portland Public Library is an independent nonprofit that is governed by a board of trustees. About 80 percent of its funding comes from Portland taxpayers, and the rest is raised privately. This structure gives the city influence on the total amount the library will receive, but virtually none on how it is spent.

It is difficult to believe that out of a $3 million appropriation, the library could not find another way to cut $30,000 and save the branch from closure. But that decision is made by the trustees and not by elected officials. So councilors were faced with the decision to restore the money to the library budget or see the Reiche branch close.

If city taxpayers are responsible for such a big share of the library budget, they should have more say in how it is spent.

The library trustees should take the time they have been given to go out to the people who are supporting their work and find out the type and locations of the services that people of Portland need from them.

If branches should be closed, library officials should announce it earlier in the budget process and do a better job explaining why it’s necessary.

 

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Approved Portland city budget spares Reiche library

City councilors pass a $185 million budget that will reduce the number of polling places.

By KELLEY BOUCHARD, Staff Writer [Portland Press Herald]
 
May 20, 2008

The Reiche Branch of the Portland Public Library will stay open for another year, but the number of polling places will be reduced from 16 to six, under a $185 million municipal budget that was approved unanimously by the Portland City Council on Monday.

Both issues generated strong public reaction in the final week of deliberation over a budget that reduced many city services and eliminated 93 jobs through attrition and layoffs.

Councilors voted 8-1 to restore $30,000 for the Reiche Branch, as proposed by Councilor David Marshall. They transferred the money from a contingency fund, so the change didn’t increase the municipal budget. The main library and its five branches will get the same appropriation – $3.1 million – that they got this fiscal year, covering 82 percent of the library budget.

Councilors who supported the measure said they were swayed by library officials’ promise that it would give them a year to analyze their facilities and services and work with the community to develop a long-range plan to address rising costs, limited financial resources and changing library needs.

“We need to avoid the summary execution of the Reiche Branch that the library trustees have proposed,” said Councilor Daniel Skolnik.

Councilor Jill Duson, who opposed restoring the Reiche Branch’s funding, said she couldn’t support last-minute changes to the budget because the finance committee worked hard to balance competing community interests.

“They all resonate with me,” Duson said.

The council strongly backed City Clerk Linda Cohen’s plan to save about $15,000 on major elections, which cost about $40,000 each. The plan reduces the number of mainland polling places from two to one in Districts 1 and 2, and from three to one in Districts 3, 4 and 5. It also eliminates polling places on Cliff and Great Diamond islands, but keeps one on Peaks Island.

Nine residents spoke against Cohen’s plan, saying that it will decrease voters’ access and increase lines at the polls, which could discourage people from voting, especially younger voters. One resident supported the reduction, saying he had lived in larger cities that had fewer polling places.

In the end, the council voted 7-2 against a proposal by Councilor Kevin Donoghue, which Marshall supported, to keep polling places on Cliff and Great Diamond islands, which cost a total of $2,500 per election. Donoghue said it would be costly and inconvenient for islanders to take a ferry to vote at the District 1 polling place on the mainland.

Most councilors said they believe Cohen will promote public awareness of the changes and encourage voter participation, especially through absentee voting, which represents 30 percent to 50 percent of voting statewide.

In a memo to the council, Cohen said participation increased from 31,000 voters in the 2000 presidential election, when Portland had 24 polling places, to 35,000 voters in the 2004 presidential election, when there were 17 polling places.

In passing the budget, the council also set a property tax rate for the year that starts July 1. The combined $274.5 million for municipal and school budgets will increase Portland’s tax rate by 64 cents (3.7 percent), from $17.10 to $17.74 per $1,000 of assessed property value. At that rate, the tax bill on a $230,000 home will increase $147, from $3,933 to $4,080.

The city budget is $1 million (0.5 percent) higher than the current budget, which ends June 30.

The council and Portland voters previously approved an $89.5 million school budget that eliminated 48 jobs – 28 positions left vacant this year and 20 positions to be cut in 2008-09.

The school budget for the coming year is $3.85 million (4.5 percent) higher than the current $85.7 million budget.

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

kbouchard@pressherald.com

 

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Effort under way to keep Portland library branch open
 
West End residents say restoring $30,000 would save the Reiche Branch and allow for more planning.

By KELLEY BOUCHARD, Staff Writer [Portland Press Herald]
 
May 15, 2008
 
West End residents and others are drumming up support for a budget proposal that would stave off the anticipated closing of the Portland Public Library’s Reiche Branch.

City Councilor David Marshall, who represents the West End, plans to ask the council on Monday to restore $30,000 to the library, giving it $3.1 million for 2008-09, the same amount as this year.

Library officials say the $30,000 will give them a year to analyze their facilities and services and work with the community to develop a long-range plan to address rising costs, limited financial resources and changing library needs.

“We need to secure that $30,000 to buy some breathing room for everyone, especially the kids,” Stephen Podgajny, executive director, said at Wednesday’s board of trustees’ meeting at the main library.

Board members urged an audience of about 50 to call or e-mail councilors before they vote on the Reiche Branch issue during final deliberation of a $185 million city budget starting at 7 p.m. Monday.

“The ball, in the short term, is in their court,” said Nathan Smith, a board vice president and former city councilor.

Library officials shocked West End residents earlier this month when they said they would close the Reiche Branch in response to a $30,000 reduction in city funding. The council initially considered cutting $50,000 from the current funding level.

Then on Monday, library officials gave the council a 15-page memo stating that the current organization and staffing of the main library on Congress Street and its five neighborhood branches “is not sustainable.”

Library officials said they targeted the Reiche Branch because it has the lowest circulation of the city’s six library outlets. They also said Portland has more library outlets per capita (10,776 residents per outlet) than any other city in New England.

At Wednesday’s trustees’ meeting, West End residents described the Reiche Branch as a critical resource in a neighborhood that includes recent immigrants who don’t speak English and longtime residents who live in mansions along the Western Promenade.

“It’s a real melting pot,” said Jo Coyne, a retired school librarian who is a leader of the West End Neighborhood Association. “(The library is) sorely, sorely needed.”

Coyne noted that while Portland taxpayers fund about 82 percent of the library’s budget, the council appoints only one representative to the 19-member board of trustees, which decides how to spend the money.

The board includes several members from towns outside Portland because the state gives the library about $180,000 each year to serve all residents of Cumberland, York and Oxford counties, Podgajny said.

Looking to Monday, Marshall said it’s uncertain whether a majority of the nine-member council will support his $30,000 proposal. Councilors John Anton, Kevin Donoghue and Cheryl Leeman have indicated they’ll back his effort, he said. Councilors James Cohen and Nicholas Mavodones Jr. said they probably will support the measure.

Mayor Edward Suslovic said he supports keeping the Reiche Branch open while library officials develop a long-range plan, but he may push to restore less than $30,000. Councilor Daniel Skolnik said he’s undecided. Councilor Jill Duson didn’t return calls for comment.

“It has the potential to be a close vote,” Marshall said at the trustees’ meeting. “(Restoring $30,000) might not save the Reiche library forever, but it will give us a chance to have a community dialogue.”

Marshall said the $30,000 would come from a contingency fund, so it wouldn’t increase the budget.

With $30,000, the library would be able to retain two part-time librarians who operate the branch at Reiche Community School 20 hours per week, Podgajny said.

The library would still have to lay off the equivalent of five full-time employees, all of them at the main library. It would be closed on Mondays as a result.

Some residents questioned whether Monday is the best day to close the main library.

Others questioned plans to temporarily move children’s services from the main library to the Munjoy Hill Branch during an $8.5 million renovation of the main library, which starts next spring.

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

kbouchard@pressherald.com

Copyright © 2008 Blethen Maine Newspapers

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It’s board’s job to give Reiche library another year [PPH Editorial]

It would provide time to create a comprehensive plan for the full system.

May 14, 2008

Daniel Webster, arguing almost 190 years ago for the independence of Dartmouth College from state control, said it was “a small college, and yet there are those who love it.”

The same is apparently true of Portland’s smallest branch library, the one at Reiche School.

A proposal by the Portland Public Library’s board to close the facility, which has the lowest lending rate of any of the city’s five neighborhood branches, has led to a local outcry.

Still, given limited city resources and other cuts that have been implemented to keep overall local spending down, closing a library branch is not an unreasonable decision.

Now, however, the board is considering keeping the Reiche branch open for one more year if the City Council restores a $30,000 cut.

But that amount represents just 1 percent of the $3.1 million the library is asking the city to provide for its operations in the coming year, which is the same amount as last year.

So $30,000 seems like a small enough amount that the board could raise it from its own resources.

The board itself has pointed out in its projected spending plan, to be taken up by the council on Monday, that the library’s current organization and staffing isn’t sustainable over the longer term.

The library plans to lay off the equivalent of five full-time employees at the main branch on Congress Street, which would result in that building being closed on Mondays.

The board is planning a two-year, $8.5 million renovation of that structure. It’s understandable that other funding would be tight, but the board has promised to develop a long-range proposal to balance income and resources.

Finding $30,000 itself to buy a year to create a sustainable plan seems like an achievable goal.

 

 

 

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Reiche Branch library may get reprieve
 
The branch in Portland’s West End will stay open if city councilors restore $30,000 in the budget.

By KELLEY BOUCHARD, Staff Writer  [ PORTLAND PRESS HERALD
 
May 13, 2008

The Reiche Branch of the Portland Public Library would get a year’s reprieve under a new spending proposal outlined at Monday’s City Council budget workshop.

Library officials said the branch in Portland’s West End would stay open if the council restores a $30,000 reduction in the 2008-09 municipal budget.

However, they also said the current library organization and staffing for the main library on Congress Street at Monument Square and five neighborhood branches isn’t sustainable.

Under the latest proposal, the city would provide $3.1 million – the same as this year – to fund 82 percent of the library’s operating budget.

The library would be able to retain two part-time librarians who operate the branch at Reiche Elementary School 20 hours per week, Stephen Podgajny, the library’s executive director, told the council.

The library would still have to lay off the equivalent of five full-time employees, all of them at the main library. It would be closed on Mondays as a result.

Councilor David Marshall, who represents the West End, said he will recommend that the $30,000 be restored when the council debates and votes on the municipal budget next Monday.

In return, Marshall said, library officials are expected to analyze library facilities and services in the coming year and develop a long-range plan to address rising costs, limited financial resources and changing library needs. Both library officials and councilors noted that the lack of such a plan leaves the Reiche Branch in jeopardy, along with other branches, including the Munjoy Hill Branch in the East End.

“It strikes me that the East End branch is no more sustainable than the Reiche Branch,” said John Anton, an at-large councilor who lives in the West End.

Library officials provided a 15-page memo answering questions councilors asked after last week’s surprise announcement that the Reiche Branch would close. The memo outlines several planned changes, such as temporarily moving children’s services from the main library to the Munjoy Hill Branch during a two-year, $8.5 million renovation of the main library.

Munjoy Hill Branch hours would increase from 20 to 45 hours per week while children’s staff from the main library is working there, Podgajny said. The memo says the Munjoy Hill Branch would resume traditional branch services after the renovation, but it also raises concern about maintaining all of the branches.

“The current system is not sustainable in light of a variety of service principles and fiscal realities,” the memo says.

The memo lists these lending totals, for books and other items, at each branch: Burbank, 214,672; Riverton, 56,920; Peaks Island, 35,499; Munjoy Hill, 29,651; and Reiche, 16,644.

The memo also provides lending and branch information for 14 other public libraries in the Northeast. Portland (population 64,656) has one library outlet for every 10,776 people. “We have more branches per capita than any other city in New England,” Podgajny said outside the council meeting.

Also, Portland had a per-capita lending rate of 11 items in 2005, topped only by the three-branch library system in West Hartford, Conn. (population 61,392), which has a rate of 13 items.

The memo suggests working with various community groups to provide a spectrum of library services, from children’s reading hours to special speakers, in all Portland neighborhoods.

Earlier this month, the council’s finance committee restored $20,000 of a proposed $50,000 reduction in the city’s library appropriation.

Marshall said the remaining $30,000 would come from a contingency fund, so it wouldn’t increase the budget.

As proposed, the combined $274.5 million city and school budget would increase Portland’s property tax rate by 64 cents (3.7 percent), from $17.10 to $17.74 per $1,000 of assessed property value.

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

kbouchard@pressherald.com

 

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Editorials [Portland Press Herald OP-ED]
 
Maine Voices: Reiche library meets neighborhood needs

All the reasons given for shutting it down have alternatives that would keep it open.

By JO COYNE, Special to the Press Herald
 
May 12, 2008

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jo Coyne (e-mail: jocoyne@gwi.net) is a resident of Portland.
I am extremely concerned about the recently announced plan to close the branch library at Reiche Elementary School.

I struggle to understand how such a decision could be made without advance neighborhood discussion.

Portland Public Library Director Stephen Podgajny and other officials are well aware that the Reiche Community Center, including the library, has suffered years of neglect.

They know that the neighborhood has been working hard to renovate the facility and rejuvenate its programs. Residents did some fine visioning in a community design workshop in the fall of 2006 and have enjoyed some small measures of progress since that time.

During the past year the city has made major improvements to the pool and locker rooms. Just recently, the expenditure of $225,000 in federal Community Development Block Grant funds was approved for additional improvements.

And now the library should be closed? I am glad that there will finally be an opportunity to communicate directly when Podgajny attends the upcoming meeting of the West End Neighborhood Association on Wednesday.

In the meantime, I would like to respond to what I hear.

“Reiche library should be closed because it’s the closest branch to the main library.”

That may be technically true, but because the Munjoy branch is no longer in a central location, much of that neighborhood’s population resides closer to the main library than to the branch. Reiche lies a busy 0.8 miles from the main library, and the way between them is a difficult route for children and the elderly, particularly in winter.

“Reiche’s adult book circulation is lower than other branches.”

Circulation figures never tell the whole story. Reiche’s services might benefit from having fewer books and more computers. An infusion of ESOL-appropriate and foreign language materials would help, too. Look at our population!

“Cutting across the board would result in a lackluster public library.”

The Burbank branch is open 40 hours per week and each of the other branches 20 hours. I fail to see how leveling the playing field and/or making equitable cuts at all the branches would dim the library more than would eliminating neighborhood library services in a part of the city that needs more, not fewer, literacy services.

“Portland West could house Reiche’s computers and circulate its children’s books.”

Portland West provides fine services for many residents of the West End but it is not a library. Its staff members are not trained in book selection, reader advisory services or reading promotion.

Exactly how would spending more time at Portland West, a social services agency, help children become lifelong learners who have developed the habit of using libraries?

I would ask the library’s administrators and trustees to be mindful of Reiche’s history.

Blocks of homes and businesses were taken by eminent domain in the late ’60s and early ’70s for Reiche School and Community Center.

Part of the justification included the many needs of the many lower socioeconomic residents of the area. I don’t see that times have changed much.

Skin colors have changed, languages have been added and some gentrification has taken place, but the West End still is home to many people in need of strong community support.

I am sorry for the current economic crisis and I understand that cuts must be made. I do ask, however, that they be made equitably.

I hope that once the people have had a chance to speak, the Portland Public Library’s leaders will reverse this decision.

 

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