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As Birmingham touts budget surplus, library board asks for enough funding to prevent closures

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — The Birmingham Public Library has requested a level of funding from the city that would prevent the closure of any library branches, a member of the library board said Monday. The request comes as the city considers how to spend nearly $14 million that remains from a budget surplus.

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

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

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

At the meeting, library officials provided councilors with a packet outlining library services, profiling branch locations, and outlining the costs of keeping all current physical library locations open. Former library board president Eunice Johnson Rogers refused to provide members of the media with the packet. The documents, which were later provided to CBS 42 by a city councilor, show that library officials estimate a budget of just over $18 million is necessary to fully staff library branches and keep every branch’s doors open. That 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 that library officials met with representatives of the mayor’s office but that that mayor was not in attendance. She said she’s optimistic, though, that the city’s budget, which would take effect in July if passed on time, will provide enough money to allow for library doors to stay open.

“That’s the conversation that we’ve been having — is that we want to get back to a place of not just putting band-aids on what our needs are,” she said. “We asked for what we needed.”

During Woodfin’s administration, funding for library services has significantly decreased while funding for other services has gone up. Since he took office, library spending under Woodfin has gone down about 28%, a decrease of just over $4 million, according to city records. In that same period, spending on police has gone up by about 5%, an increase of nearly $5 million.

Once the city’s budget is passed and the library system’s financial future is clearer, Richardson said the library board plans to meet with individual city councilors whose districts would be impacted by any closures that might be necessary. Because without appropriate funding by the city, she said, closures may be inevitable.

“At the end of the day, the issue has not gone away,” Richardson said. “But hopefully, if we can get the support and the resources that we expect and anticipate and hope for — I’ll be optimistic with the forthcoming budget — then hopefully that will turn the tide on where this conversation is going regarding the size of our system, potential branch closures and things of that nature.”

CBS 42 reached out the mayor’s office for comment but has not yet heard back.

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