Fort Worth to fund 2 libraries through end of fiscal 2011

Fort Worth officials announced Wednesday that the City Council plans to approve spending about $620,000 early next year to keep the Ridglea and Northside branch libraries open through the end of fiscal 2011, which ends in September.

The Fort Worth Public Library Foundation was prepared to take over operation of the two branches in April after they were set to be closed by a council struggling to find ways to cut expenses and bridge a $73 million budget shortfall.

Meadowbrook Library was also slated to close, but the city is working on a partnership with the Texas Workforce Commission to keep it open with a job-search resource site.

"We continue to see improvements in the economic health in Fort Worth and sales taxes coming in," said Susan Alanis, assistant city manager, who added that the money will come from the general fund. She said the city will have to explore funding options for next fiscal year.

Proposals to close the libraries created a stir among residents they served, and community groups fought hard to save them.

The city directed the library department to cut 10 percent from a $17.4 million budget. After 45 positions were cut and hours were slashed by 37 percent in 2008, closing branches was the only option left, said Gleniece Robinson, the Fort Worth library director. The city planned to save about $1.7 million by closing the three branch libraries.

The library foundation was prepared to step in, offering to operate the libraries with donations.

Foundation President Betsy Pepper had estimated that the foundation could run them for under $500,000 a year.

Council members, though, agreed to keep them open with city funds through March. "The library foundation was delighted to play a role in saving these libraries," Pepper said in an e-mail Wednesday.

Alanis said: "Our heartfelt thanks to the foundation, because that gave us the time to pause and consider the options and be at a point where we can make a decision like this."

John Henry, 817-390-7539