Willowbranch, 3 other libraries survive cuts
City Council member Robin Lumb said closing Willowbranch library would be the moral equivalent "of shooting the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus at the same time."
Both, for now, are safe after the Council Finance Committee on Wednesday restored funds to keep the Willowbranch, Beaches, University Park and San Marco branches open for fiscal 2013-14 at a cost of $1.2 million.
The committee also re-established Sunday hours from 1-5 p.m. for the Highlands, Pablo Creek, Southeast, Webb Wesconnett and Main branches for almost $243,000.
Mayor Alvin Brown's proposed budget included those cuts in addition to an eight-hour reduction of Main Library hours, $449,641; lowering funding for library materials, $173,370; and closing the Brentwood, $163,904, and Maxville, $102,193, branches. Those cuts were not restored.
The committee debated the merits of keeping Willowbranch open and the Sunday hours the most.
Council Vice President Clay Yarborough proposed keeping the four branches open, but Council member Stephen Joost offered to swap the Willowbranch restoration with the Sunday hours, saying the branch needed repairs and the additional hours would support all parts of the city.
"Close it and make the system as a whole more efficient," he told the committee.
Lumb and Council member Jim Love were the most vocal opponents of closing the Riverside facility, the oldest in the system.
"That library has insinuated itself into the heart of that community," Lumb said.
Love said the nearest alternative in Murray Hill would not be able to support the influx of patrons relocating from Willowbranch and talked of its historic nature and neighborhood use. Willowbranch is in Love's district.
Library Director Barbara Gubbin told the committee that Willowbranch circulated 226,000 items, had 124,000 visitors and logged 25,000 computers sessions over the past year, which ranked in the lower half of the library system.
Mold removal on the bottom floor of the facility needs less than $300,000 worth of work, which Lumb said can be addressed in the Capital Improvement Plan.
Joost's motion for the swap failed, but another amendment added the Sunday hours.
The full Council will vote on a final budget in late September, but news of the funding restoration was met with optimism by several Willowbranch patrons Wednesday afternoon.
"I think it's needed," said William Pugliese.
Pugliese said he visits the branch at least five times a month and has for the past 12 years.
"The people who work here are great," he said, later adding: "I bring my grandkids here. They love it."
Sue Culpepper, another Willowbranch patron and former librarian, said she has used the facility since she was 4.
"I pass by two other branches just to come here," she said.