Fort Worth library backers gearing up to fight proposed cuts

FORT WORTH -- For the second year in a row, the city is considering closing libraries to balance its budget -- and neighborhood groups are organizing to keep them open.

The neighborhoods won a reprieve last year, but it's not clear what will happen this time.

City Manager Dale Fisseler's proposed budget calls for closing the Meadowbrook, North Side and Ridglea branch libraries and cutting hours at the outreach libraries in the Butler and Cavile Place housing projects.

The economic downturn has eaten into city revenues so deeply that city officials want to concentrate on core services: police, fire, water, sanitation and roads. If the library cuts are approved, they would save $1.2 million during the 2010-11 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. The overall city budget is about $1.3 billion.

Library Director Gleniece Robinson pointed out that the city already cut hours at all its branches in 2008. That left a choice between closing locations or having the service decline across the whole system.

Residents in the affected neighborhoods say the libraries provide a service they can't get anywhere else, particularly during hard times. The Meadowbrook library is popular with people who look for jobs on its computers, said Mike Phipps, city affairs chairman with the West Meadowbrook Neighborhood Association.

"We are in one of the poorest areas of the city," he said. "You have probably many people in this area who can't afford a computer."

Betsy Pepper, president of the Fort Worth Public Library Foundation, said she worried that the cuts could hurt the foundation's effort to raise private money for the library system. Four years ago, the foundation lined up donations to renovate the North Side Branch.

"It seems to us particularly distressing that this branch should close," she said. "We're also very distressed about Meadowbrook. ... It is still a library that is beloved by the people in that neighborhood."

Last year, the City Council discussed closing the Meadowbrook and Wedgwood branches. They were spared at the last minute when the council shifted funds from other areas.

In April, Robinson unveiled a long-term plan to close some branches and replace others with newer outlets that offer different services. The branches scheduled for closure are typically older and are close to other branches, such as the East Regional and Southwest Regional libraries.

Robinson said the plan calls for expanded hours at the Southwest and East Regional libraries, in part to accommodate patrons who used the branches targeted for closure.

Even so, residents say they are attached to the libraries.

Bob Bashein, president of the Ridglea Hills Neighborhood Association, said he was besieged with e-mails from residents who want their local library to stay open.

"I'm going to try to mount some type of an effort -- I don't know what it is yet -- to see if you can't keep it open," he said.

Mike Lee, 817-390-7539

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