As Birmingham touts budget surpluses, library board calls for sufficient funding to prevent closures

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BIRMINGHAM, Alabama (WIAT) – The Birmingham Public Library has requested a level of funding from the city that would prevent all library branches from closing, a member of the library board said on Monday. The request comes as the city considers how to spend nearly $14 million left over from a budget surplus.

At a Monday afternoon meeting of the library’s long-range planning committee, board member Kim Richardson provided updates on the possibility of branch closureswhich have been under discussion since last year.

Richardson said closings are still possible, but library officials have requested a level of funding in Mayor Randall Woodfin’s upcoming budget that would allow all city library branches to remain open.

Richardson said the council has done its best to inform the mayor and city council of the library’s needs. She and other library officials made a public presentation to the city council’s education committee on system finances, answering questions from committee members on the subject.

At the meeting, library officials provided councilors with a package outlining library services, outlining branch locations, and outlining the costs of keeping all current physical library locations open. Former library board chair Eunice Johnson Rogers declined to provide the package to members of the media. The documents, which were later provided to CBS 42 by a city councilman, show that library officials estimate a budget of just over $18 million is needed to staff library branches and keep the doors of each branch open. This request is about $5 million more than the library was able to budget in 2021 or 2022 after drastic cuts in the amount of funding provided by the city.

At Monday’s meeting, Richardson also said library officials met with representatives from the mayor’s office, but that mayor was not present. She said she was optimistic, however, that the city budget, which would go into effect in July if passed in time, would provide enough money to keep the library doors open.

“That’s the conversation we’ve had – that we want to get back to a place where we don’t just put band-aids on our needs,” she said. “We asked for what we needed.”

During Woodfin’s administration, funding for library services declined significantly while funding for other services increased. Since taking office, library expenses under Woodfin fell about 28%, a drop of just over $4 million, according to city records. During the same period, expenditures for the police increased by approximately 5%, an increase of almost $5 million.

Once the city budget is passed and the financial future of the library system becomes clearer, Richardson said the library board plans to meet with individual city councilors whose districts would be affected by any closures that may be necessary. Because without proper city funding, she said, closures could be unavoidable.

“Ultimately, the problem didn’t go away,” Richardson said. “But hopefully if we can get the support and the resources that we’ve been waiting for and anticipating and hoping for – I’ll be optimistic with the next budget – then hopefully that will turn the tide of this conversation about the size of our system, potential branch closures and things of that nature.

CBS 42 has reached out to the mayor’s office for comment, but has yet to receive a response.

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