Effort under way to keep Portland library branch open
West End residents say restoring $30,000 would save the Reiche Branch and allow for more planning.
By KELLEY BOUCHARD, Staff Writer May 15, 2008
West End residents and others are drumming up support for a budget proposal that would stave off the anticipated closing of the Portland Public Library's Reiche Branch.
City Councilor David Marshall, who represents the West End, plans to ask the council on Monday to restore $30,000 to the library, giving it $3.1 million for 2008-09, the same amount as this year.
Library officials say the $30,000 will give them a year to analyze their facilities and services and work with the community to develop a long-range plan to address rising costs, limited financial resources and changing library needs.
"We need to secure that $30,000 to buy some breathing room for everyone, especially the kids," Stephen Podgajny, executive director, said at Wednesday's board of trustees' meeting at the main library.
Board members urged an audience of about 50 to call or e-mail councilors before they vote on the Reiche Branch issue during final deliberation of a $185 million city budget starting at 7 p.m. Monday.
"The ball, in the short term, is in their court," said Nathan Smith, a board vice president and former city councilor.
Library officials shocked West End residents earlier this month when they said they would close the Reiche Branch in response to a $30,000 reduction in city funding. The council initially considered cutting $50,000 from the current funding level.
Then on Monday, library officials gave the council a 15-page memo stating that the current organization and staffing of the main library on Congress Street and its five neighborhood branches "is not sustainable."
Library officials said they targeted the Reiche Branch because it has the lowest circulation of the city's six library outlets. They also said Portland has more library outlets per capita (10,776 residents per outlet) than any other city in New England.
At Wednesday's trustees' meeting, West End residents described the Reiche Branch as a critical resource in a neighborhood that includes recent immigrants who don't speak English and longtime residents who live in mansions along the Western Promenade.
"It's a real melting pot," said Jo Coyne, a retired school librarian who is a leader of the West End Neighborhood Association. "(The library is) sorely, sorely needed."
Coyne noted that while Portland taxpayers fund about 82 percent of the library's budget, the council appoints only one representative to the 19-member board of trustees, which decides how to spend the money.
The board includes several members from towns outside Portland because the state gives the library about $180,000 each year to serve all residents of Cumberland, York and Oxford counties, Podgajny said.
Looking to Monday, Marshall said it's uncertain whether a majority of the nine-member council will support his $30,000 proposal. Councilors John Anton, Kevin Donoghue and Cheryl Leeman have indicated they'll back his effort, he said. Councilors James Cohen and Nicholas Mavodones Jr. said they probably will support the measure.
Mayor Edward Suslovic said he supports keeping the Reiche Branch open while library officials develop a long-range plan, but he may push to restore less than $30,000. Councilor Daniel Skolnik said he's undecided. Councilor Jill Duson didn't return calls for comment.
"It has the potential to be a close vote," Marshall said at the trustees' meeting. "(Restoring $30,000) might not save the Reiche library forever, but it will give us a chance to have a community dialogue."
Marshall said the $30,000 would come from a contingency fund, so it wouldn't increase the budget.
With $30,000, the library would be able to retain two part-time librarians who operate the branch at Reiche Community School 20 hours per week, Podgajny said.
The library would still have to lay off the equivalent of five full-time employees, all of them at the main library. It would be closed on Mondays as a result.
Some residents questioned whether Monday is the best day to close the main library.
Others questioned plans to temporarily move children's services from the main library to the Munjoy Hill Branch during an $8.5 million renovation of the main library, which starts next spring.
Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at: