Local Politics

Library supporters argue against Wake budget cuts

Posted June 1, 2009 12:17 p.m. EDT
Updated June 2, 2009 2:23 p.m. EDT

— Library supporters on Monday asked Wake County commissioners not to turn the page on local libraries because of a tight budget.

County Manager David Cooke has proposed a $953 million budget for the 2009-10 fiscal year, which starts in July. The budget holds the line on taxes and would cut spending by $31 million to keep pace with declining revenue during the recession.

The cuts include closing the Athens Drive and Duraleigh library branches and slashing another $1 million from Wake County library operations – about 10 percent of the library system's annual budget.

Library supporters appealed to commissioners to spare the system from the proposed cuts, unfurling a banner signed by scores of children that proclaimed, "We Love Our Library!"

"Please try not to cut back on library hours," said Susan Dunathan of the county library commission. "People need the library branches open. They need the services. This is not the time to take those few hours out of the system."

Leslie Titchner, one of about a dozen library supporters at the commissioners' meeting, said closing a library would heartbreaking.

"I know these are tough economic times, but if the library goes, then these are really bad," Titchner said. "If people can't get books for their kids or for themselves, that's just really hard times."

Commissioners were holding three meetings Monday to discuss the proposed budget. Human services and environmental services supporters also made pitches for continued funding to the board.

"We need more money," said Bill Stanford, a board member for Wake County Human Services.

The human services department has seen a tremendous increase in requests from citizens for aid in recent months, but the draft budget calls for cutting the department's budget by almost $13 million.

Commissioner Joe Bryan said cuts are likely unavoidable because sales tax and fee revenue is down.

"This Board of Commissioners has made it our No. 1 priority that we would not raise taxes this year," Bryan said. "If we are true to our word, there is no other choice at this point in time other than to cut services."

Cooke's budget also calls for eliminating 20 county government jobs and 102 vacant positions.

Wake County schools, including the public school system and Wake Technical Community College, would see funding decrease by 0.9 percent.

The county would put more money toward capital projects, including funds for the construction of a library on Leesville Road, a detention center on Hammond Road and a center for mental health and substance abuse services.