As part of the August budget review, the Council Finance Committee restored about $1.8 million to keep open six libraries — Beaches, University Park, San Marco, Willowbranch, Brentwood and Maxville — and maintain Sunday hours for four branches.
The cuts were in Mayor Alvin Brown’s budget and presented by the library board in an attempt to meet an almost 14 percent departmental reduction required by the mayor.
The committee approved refunding most of the library’s requests, but did not restore $449,641 for Main Library hours and $173,370 for materials.
In response, the library board voted to close the Downtown branch Saturdays instead of another day of the week. The Main Library is one of many open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturdays and one of five open 1-5 p.m. Sundays.
“This was a very difficult decision to make,” Library Director Barbara Gubbin told the committee.
Gubbin and library board Chair Brenda Simmons-Hutchins said Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays had the highest usage, with visits dwindling as the week wore on. Of the 21 libraries in the system, 11 would still have Saturday hours and, as library officials said, could accommodate those displaced by other branches being closed.
“I don’t agree with that decision,” council member Robin Lumb later said in the conversation.
He said the clientele changes from the weekdays to the weekends and weekend hours are able to benefit those who work.
Lumb questioned why a day earlier in the week couldn’t be substituted, with Simmons-Hutchins referring to the usage numbers.
“We were presented with very hard stats,” she said and indicated the board vote came between closing the branch on Fridays or Saturdays.
“Massaging” hours of other branches to allow for the Downtown branch to stay open Saturdays also wasn’t an option because of costs, Gubbin said.
Council member Lori Boyer said she shared the concerns of Lumb regarding the different clientele not being afforded a weekend opportunity.
She also said the board decision to turn the building “dark” on Saturdays was a decision made as an individual board and “seems to be directly in opposition to the bigger goal” of Downtown development.
Boyer also questioned the decision-making when creating the proposed list, saying another list of cuts from another perspective “may have been entirely different.” She questioned whether the motive was to have all the cuts restored.
“I am disappointed in the decision,” Boyer said of the Saturday closures.
Council President Bill Gulliford serves as the library board liaison and said he listened to members “anguish” over the decision much like council members did, but the library board’s charge is to oversee the service to the best of its ability.
Council will finalize the budget during its meeting Tuesday and can propose floor amendments the full council can vote on to restore or cut programs and services.
One of those amendments is by Council member Bill Bishop to restore the Main Library’s Saturday hours.
Council has more than $14 million in a special council contingency fund to spend if it decides to use the full millage increase it established in a past vote.
As of Tuesday morning, council member had 27 such amendments totaling more than $22 million, though some would not affect that fund.
Jacksonville Public Library leaders who advocated for funding restorations last month were back at the budget table Tuesday, explaining to a City Council panel why the Main Library will be closed Saturdays — a decision several council members aren’t happy about.