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Commission moves closer to decision on Mason Square Library

Date: 2/11/2009

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD The Library Commission voted Thursday to accept the analysis of library sites assembled by the Library Foundation as part of its process to determine if it will back taking the former Mason Square Library building by eminent domain.

The commission will have a special meeting on Feb. 25 to go through the material and then will discuss their decision on March 4.

John Egan, the counsel for the Library Foundation the non-profit group that administers an endowment for the Mason Square Library explained a vote from the Library Commission would begin the eminent domain proceedings. The City Council would then have to take two votes in favor of the taking for the city to take possession.

"The ball is now in your lap," Egan said. "You have an opinion from [City Solicitor Edward] Pikula, which is your bible as you go forward."

Speaking of the site reports, Egan said, "You might want to re-do the reports and that's fine. It's your decision and responsibility."

If the commission decides against taking the library building back from its present owners, the Urban League, and wants to buy an alternative site, then the process will revert to Mayor Domenic Sarno to consider how to pay for the site. The Library Foundation will supply the funding needed for the taking of the former library building.

Both Egan and Pikula would be attending the meeting on Feb. 25 to answer any questions.

The commission also voted to draft a letter to Mayor Domenic Sarno, the Finance Control Board and City Council President William Foley protesting the proposed 10.76 percent cut made to the library budget. The final letter was not yet released by press time, but a letter by City Councilor Patrick Markey and Bruce Stebbins was sent to Sarno on the library's behalf.

The councilors wrote, "We write to express my concern regarding your proposed cuts to the Library Department budget. As you know, our city library system is the beneficiary of certain state funding. As Pat knows from his years on the Library Commission, such funding is dependent on the city maintaining a level of municipal funding for the library department that is proportionate to funding levels for other city departments. If the library department budget is cut at a rate greater than that of other city departments, it risks losing state funding. Because the 10.76% cut proposed for the library department far exceeds the cuts proposed for most other city departments, it could result in the library department losing its state funding. Such a cut could, in effect, put the library department in the position of having to absorb a total reduction to its budget far in excess of 10.76%.

"Even without a corresponding loss of state funding, a cut of the magnitude of which you propose would certainly result in layoffs and a cutback in library hours. This would be tragic as our libraries are the lifeblood of the neighborhoods, which they serve. It would also be tragic given the fact that the library department is, in my opinion, one of the most efficiently run departments in our city. It stretches its $4,229,000 city budget just about as far as is humanly possible. While a cut of $455,000 would be difficult for any department to bear, it is particularly tough medicine to visit upon a department which already has a small budget and which operates without any discernible fat."