City Council harps on library closings


City Council today expressed interest in halting the closure of five Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh branches, though no action was taken.

Council President Doug Shields said he was disgruntled by the library board’s decision to close the Hazelwood branch, citing funds that council specified for summer programs at that branch that were “not expended last summer.”

“I am not willing to to accept that these libraries will close,” said Councilman Jim Motznick. “I believe the decisions made by the director and the board were premature.”

Councilman Bruce Krauss, also a library system trustee, disagreed with Motznick and others’ implications.

“I don’t want to see [Library Director Barbara] Mistick or the board painted as not trying hard to fight these closings,” Krauss said.

Krauss said the board had studied other possibilities for keeping the branches open, and that he didn’t personally agree with the the decision outright, but that the budget deficit forced their hand.

Councilman Peduto argued that library supporters should stop blaming the city for not providing enough direct funding, because city council helped established the library’s RAD, or Regional Asset District, funding so that the library system could be supported directly by citizens’ sales tax and not have to rely on a tight city budget.

Peduto said council did this in 2002 in order that the library could receive more foundation funding and grow like Phipps Conservatory, the Pittburgh Zoo and the National Aviary. He said these latter three organizations had been quite successful since leaving city government — especially the zoo, which more than doubled its number of patrons since becoming independent of the city in 1994.

“The difference is when I go to the library, I don’t pay, and you don’t pay,” said Councilman Patrick Dowd. “No one is allowed to pay. [The library] has flat funding, but rising healthcare costs.”

Councilman Ricky Burgess said he sided with his colleagues’ sentiments but would counter any attempt to send more city funds to “interest groups” like the library with an appeal for more public investment in District 9, which he said has suffered from a lack of city funding for years.

The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh has predicted a $6 million shortfall, or 22 percent, by 2014.

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