By Brendan Browne
Whether Mayor Bloomberg or the City Council controls the outcome of the city’s budget for the next fiscal year, the Queens library system and its network of cultural and educational programs are likely to take a considerable financial hit. The real question lies in how large the cut will be.
The mayor has proposed slashing Queens library funds by $10.5 million, which would add to the $4.4 million the city took from the library system’s current fiscal year budget. That would ring up to about a 15 percent loss in fiscal years 2002 and 2003. It may not stop there, though. If the city’s financial state is bleak enough to trigger the mayor’s contingency cuts, the borough’s libraries would suffer the loss of an additional 7.5 percent.
Under the City Council’s plan, library spending would be curtailed by about 3 percent or 4 percent in the next fiscal year. Gary Strong, director of the borough’s library system, met with Queens City Council members Monday, May 6 to lobby for a reduction in cuts.
If the contingency cuts are made, the effects “would increase proportionately and would be devastating,” Strong said. “We could not maintain a library presence in every area of the borough,” he told members of the Council Monday. “And today we are faced with dismantling some of the programs we fought so hard to create.”
Library officials, though mindful of the city’s budget problems, are clearly pulling for the Council’s plan.
“We understand that we have to be partners in the [city’s] recovery. We can’t be immune while everyone else suffers,” said Joanne King, spokeswoman for the Queens Borough Public Library. But “there’s a wide discrepancy between a 4 percent reduction and a 15 percent reduction.”
On Tuesday, Strong joined Queens City Council members in a rally outside City Hall to present 18,000 postcards signed by Queens residents protesting the mayor’s proposed budget cuts.
During the Giuliani administration, the mayor normally proposed cuts to city services and agencies in anticipation that the Council would prefer to raise funding for them. The two then would reconcile and little or no change would be made to services. The Council received credit for restoring money and the mayor got credit for not overspending.
At that time the city’s financial condition was healthy and the mayor and then-Council Speaker Peter Vallone (D-Astoria) seemed to work well together, said an official from the Giuliani administration. The economic picture is much darker now and many city officials are new, including the mayor and Council Speaker Gifford Miller (D-Manhattan).
“With this mayor, all bets are off. Nobody knows how it’s going to play out this year,” said a concerned Joe Catrambone, a spokesman for the Queens Borough Library.
The Queens library system, which is the busiest in the country, has been scrambling to find ways to deal with a sharp drop in funding. After the city removed $4.4 million from the budget for this fiscal year, which runs through June, branches reduced material spending and eliminated Sunday service in all but three locations, a library spokesman said.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg if the mayor’s budget for the next fiscal year is unchanged. Only 11 of the 63 branches in Queens will be opened on Saturdays and almost two-thirds would have morning and evening service one day a week, a library spokesman said. Only the central library’s hours would remain unchanged and 12 libraries would be open five days a week, just in the morning, he added.
The Queens library system also boasts several educational programs for children and adults, which would be downsized, too. The city-sponsored program to teach adults English as a second language would go by the wayside, and cultural and recreational programs would lose 25 percent of funding. The budget cuts also would suspend the Connecting Libraries and Schools Program, an educational program for students, parents and teachers, and the summer children’s reading program would help only 1,000 kids instead of last year’s 22,000.
Some 200 full-time employees in Queens would lose their jobs under the Bloomberg plan, the library said, alongside the 82 part-time student workers that already have been axed.
Reach reporter Brendan Browne by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or by phone at 229-0300, Ext. 155