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Thursday, July 30, 2009 02:28 am

Mayor changes direction, cuts library workers

City administration previously supported tax increase to boost Lincoln Library

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Lincoln Library
PHOTO BY DAVID HINE

Mandy Magill, a 29-year-old mother of two, started as a library assistant at Lincoln Library in August 2004. She was one of 15 employees recently laid off as part of Mayor Tim Davlin’s plan to reduce city spending by $3.2 million.

Magill has witnessed a gradual breakdown of the library system, she says, with this latest round of cuts adding to already vacant staff positions and the general impression that libraries have become obsolete. Librarians might not save lives like police and fire personnel, she says, but they still provide a vital service to the community.

“It may not be life-saving,” Magill says, “but it can be life-changing.”

In past years, Davlin has largely supported Lincoln Library. He developed a special task force in 2007 to explore the library system’s future needs and in early 2008 advocated for keeping the southeast and west library branches open in spite of financial concerns. Earlier this year, he helped pass an initiative to increase the city telecommunications tax from 1 to 4 percent to generate additional funds for the library.

But on July 10, the mayor announced that his cuts to city services would include $602,000 from Lincoln Library. On July 15 nine union workers, one non-union employee and five temporary pages were told their last day would be Aug. 6. The city’s plan also includes closing the main library on Sundays and only opening the southeast and west branches two days a week.

Davlin and his executive assistant Jim Donelan could not be reached for comment.

Magill says the library cuts will be “catastrophic” for both patrons and remaining employees. Pages previously returned books to their proper shelves. But now without pages, and as every department loses at least one employee, she explains, the remaining 44 full-time employees will help shelve books in addition to other job duties.

“It’s exhausting if you’ve never done it,” Magill says.

Mandy Magill
PHOTO BY AMANDA ROBERT

Three employees will now manage the southeast and west library branches. Magill, who primarily worked as a branch employee, says seven staff members rotated between the branches and the main library when she first started.

“I’ve been hearing from aldermen the flawed logic that if branches are closed, we’ll need less manpower,” Magill says. “But a lot of people who worked at the branches also worked at the main library.”

American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31 initially encouraged all of its members to take furlough days to help raise funds to save the library employees. AFSCME Council 31 staff representative Roger Griffith told aldermen last week that public works employees from Local 3417 took three days off, while library employees from Local 3738 took enough days to return at least $100,000 to city coffers. But so far, he says, the city has committed to library layoffs.

“Some of the folks are going ahead and taking them anyway,” Griffith says, “hoping the city changes their mind.”

The city administration suggested last week that employees could also write personal checks to the corporate fund in lieu of taking furlough days.

“It’s tough enough for them to take an unpaid day off,” Griffith says, “but to work an eight-hour shift and then turn around and write a check to the city, that’s a tough hill to climb. I wouldn’t do it, I’ll put it to that way.”

Griffith instead requested that aldermen consider a six-page list of long-term budget solutions submitted to the mayor’s office by Local 3738 in early July, as well as an alternative calling for the transfer of funds from City Water, Light & Power to the corporate fund before the Aug. 5 city council meeting.

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