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Middletown, Fern Creek library branches closing due to budget shortfall

Updated: May. 30, 2019 at 12:29 AM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - The Middletown Library will close Saturday in the wake of Louisville’s budget crisis.

In his proposed budget, Mayor Greg Fischer suggested closing two of the three major government services in the East Government Center, being the Middletown Library and the Charmoli Center Neighborhood Place. The East Government Center building also houses the headquarters for the LMPD 8th Division.

District 19 Councilman Anthony Piagentini said he was told they are closing the library in order to staff the Northeast Regional Library, which was itself fully funded to be staffed separately from the Middletown staff in the current budget.

“Why if this [Middletown] library was funded through the rest of the fiscal year -- we still haven’t completed the budget cycle -- why is he proposing closing it before the end of the fiscal year?” Piagentini asked.

Library Director Lee Burchfield said the decision was based on a number of criteria, including the fact the buildings for the Middletown and Fern Creek libraries were leased. The rent for those buildings totaled around $1 million.

Fern Creek Library will close on Monday, June 3. With the closures, 92 jobs will be eliminated.

Burchfield said it was needed to prepare for the opening of the new Northeast Regional Library.

“My job is to look at the system as a whole,” Burchfield said. “What I see as the most devastating thing happening right now is the reduction of hours at libraries all across the system.”

Patrons in Middletown have already started a petition to keep the library open, saying it fills a critical need in the community.

Including Councilman Piagentini, Councilman Robin Engel and Councilman Stuart Benson released a joint statement on Wednesday afternoon:

“Last month, the Mayor announced his intention to close the Middletown and Fern Creek Libraries in Fiscal Year 2020. We are opposed to this decision and are actively working to reverse this decision. The Fern Creek and Middletown Libraries are two of the most used library branches in terms of attendance and books checked out despite their poor state and smaller size. Since the Mayor’s announcement was made, members of the Metro Council as well as groups supporting our libraries are rallying for continued funding of these libraries as well as Saturday hours for many of our branches.

Instead of allowing an opportunity to find a way to keep these branches open, the Mayor, without consulting the Metro Council, decided to close both the Fern Creek and Middletown Libraries a month early and prior end of our current Fiscal Year, even though all branches were funded for a full year in our current budget.

Our libraries are an important part of our community. Libraries must be accessible throughout the week and in all corners of the community. Our libraries should be fully funded and they should not be shuttered to punish a portion of the community that has a long history of support and use of the libraries with astronomical population growth that will fuel even more demand, not less.

We wish to thank the hundreds of people who have signed the petition to keep the Middletown and Fern Creek Libraries open, we wish to let the employees at these libraries know that their work is appreciated, and we promise to continue to work with our Metro Council colleagues to find a way to fund all of our branches and seek out permanent locations that will serve each of our neighborhoods this summer and for the many that follow.”

Metro Councilman Markus Winkler, a Democrat who represents District 17 near the Middletown Library, has been working with residents to try and come up with a plan to keep it open -- as it is the most widely-used library in the city, according to annual use numbers.

WAVE 3 News asked the mayor why he would put the city’s highest use library on the chopping block. He cited the new Northeast Regional Library that will open at the end of June as the reason. That library is located several miles away, but in the same region of town as the Middletown branch.

“Everyone is hurt, I mean the Middletown Library is a key component of this neighborhood -- and not just the immediate neighbors of Middletown but really the entire area," Winkler said. "I think the most important thing being lost in this, is school lets out this week. The Northeast Regional Library won’t open until June 24th.”

Winkler said that’s a three week gap when kids are out of school and pools are already closing this summer. Now, in their part of the county, there won’t be a library open during that time either.

Fischer said with a $35 million budget shortfall to make up and councilmembers who won’t vote for new revenue to keep libraries open, he has no choice.

“The council surely understands this," Fischer said. "They made the vote, so now this is the accountability that’s taking place.”

On Monday, WAVE 3 News specifically asked the mayor if a petition circulating to save the Middletown Library could work.

“I hope the council listens to what the public is saying right now and says, ‘Hey, we’ve got to figure out a way to stop this from going,’” Fischer said.

During Wednesday’s budget hearing, Metro Council members said, because of the mayor, they now can’t do that.

The landlords for both libraries had already received notice from the city that they wanted out of their leases Wednesday.

"It's going to be more of a challenge than what it was last week because of the decisions that were made without our consult," Paula McCraney, Metro Council District 7, said.

Councilmembers questioned whether they could still keep the libraries open by funding them, despite the city giving notice to terminate the leases.

"If the answer is, look, this is a done deal, we're not talking about anything else, we're finished, libraries are closing, I just need to know where are we," Kevin Kramer, Metro Council District 11, said.

Burchfield responsed by telling councilmembers he’s open to relaying that request to the mayor, but that even if more funds arrived, he would see them better used by expanding hours at other libraries rather keeping all of them open.

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