Library books reduced hours to help absorb budget cut
"It's a luxury to come to the library and get some work done," said Saladin, a teacher at Newtown High School. "I don't get a lot of peace and quiet at home."
But action taken last month by the Representative Town Meeting to cut $800,000 from the contingency account of the town's budget for 2012-13 has municipal departments tightening their belts to make up the shortfall, and evening library hours at the main and branch libraries are among the casualties to the budget ax.
Right now, the main branch of the Fairfield Public Library is open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday and the Fairfield Woods Branch Library is open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. those days.
However, beginning July 1, the main library will close at 5 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays and the branch library will close at 5 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Both libraries also are currently open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays, and that too will change.
Saturday hours at the main library will be 1 to 5 p.m. while the branch will be open 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Neither library is open on Sundays during the summer.
Saladin was not happy to hear the news. "It's a bummer," he said. "The longer the library is open, the better. It's a very safe, quiet place to get a lot of work done."
Elias Lolis, who was at the library Monday with his children, said he didn't find news of the trimmed library schedule upsetting -- or surprising.
"We all see the writing on the wall, and we should do whatever we can, " he said.
Plus, Lolis said, it's now summer season. "I think if it was during the school year, it might be an issue," he said.
The library was asked to shave $108,000 from its 2012-13 budget, according to Town Librarian Karen Ronald.
"We cannot absorb this kind of cut without cutting hours and library materials," she said.
Town officials plan to use restored contingency money as a cushion for pending negotiations on municipal employee contracts.
At the libraries, in addition to reducing hours, which saves $72,000, another $32,000 is being cut from the materials budget.
"We went through and looked at each department and worked with department heads to identify areas where we could save money," First Selectman Mike Tetreau said.
"We tried to minimize the impact on the taxpayers."
For example, Tetreau said while the library hours have cut back, on nights when the main library is closed the branch is open and vice versa.
The $800,000 had been allocated for the contingency account because there are five municipal union contracts that are still not settled.
The employee contracts all expired in 2010 and funds will be needed to cover possible retroactive pay increases when the contracts are finally signed.
Not every department will have spending cuts, the first selectman said. "There are certain services we have to provide," he said. "We can't suggest, `Please only have fires Monday through Friday.' "
He also said since the Board of Education budget is set, the town is not allowed to ask school officials to reduce their spending plan.
Some measures will likely not be noticed by the average taxpayer, Tetreau said, such as having an office position shared between the assessor and tax collector.
In other areas, open positions have been filled at a lower salary and some bids for materials or work have come in lower than expected.
"The department heads and employees have been great," Tetreau said in helping to come up with $800,000 in savings to restore contingency funds.
But for residents like Wendy Elmore and her 15-year-old son, Billy, the news about the library was not good.
Browsing the video collection, Elmore said they visit the library several times a week.
"It was hard enough to go into summer hours and lose our Sundays," she said.
"We will do our best to provide quality service when we are open," Ronald responds to such concerns, "and to get the word out that patrons can access online databases, downloadable resources, and put holds on materials when we are closed."
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