HAMMOND | In what board members and patrons called "a heartbreaking decision," the Hammond Public Library Board of trustees voted unanimously Tuesday to close the city's two remaining library branches Nov. 1.
Property tax caps, a frozen tax levy and incomplete tax collection sealed the fate of the E.B. Hayward branch, 1212 172nd St., and the Howard branch, 7047 Grand Ave., board President Paul Taylor said.
More than 70 people packed the community room at the main library to plead with the board to keep the libraries open for children and adults in the neighborhoods who use the computers, books and programs.
Revenue has been declining for the Hammond Public Library for three years. The state's tax caps that voters added to the Indiana Constitution cut the amount of property taxes the library receives. Property taxes are the library's main source of operating funds, Taylor said.
In addition, the Indiana General Assembly froze Lake County's tax levy because the county has failed to adopt a local-option income tax.
Finally, the county in May collected only 86 percent of the property taxes owed.
All of those forces led to a loss this year of more than $800,000 in library system revenue, Taylor said.
The branches cost a total of $550,000 to operate each year, and both need major repairs including new roofs, Library Director Rene Greenleaf said.
The Hammond library system's budget approved in January was cut by $500,000 from the advertised 2011 budget. In July, the library board learned an additional $801,000 would be cut.
"Our budget went from $4 million to less than $2 million," Taylor said.
"Libraries don't receive any state or federal money," board member Alan Zlatarich said. "We don't get a cent from casino revenues."
The city of Hammond receives $39 million annually in riverboat funds, Taylor said. That money is available to the mayor and each City Council member who represents a district. Each was approached about helping close the budget shortfall, Taylor said.
"The people who control that money don't want to share the money with the library," he said.
Board member Louis Karubas criticized Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr.'s administration for not offering any casino money.
Those who attended the meeting proposed solutions to the board before the vote.
Stephanie Wilson suggested charging a fee for library cards and computer use and presented the board with a schedule of fees. Taylor asked for a show of hands from those willing to pay for library services, and a majority of the crowd responded positively.
Bill Emerson asked if the branches could stay open several days a week while the main library closes on those days to keep costs down.
Greenleaf said state regulations require all libraries be open 64 hours a week to receive funding.
Some personnel from the two branches are retiring or leaving their posts. Five full-time and two part-time employees will be transferred to the main library. No layoffs are planned, Taylor said.
No plans have been made for the books, computers and other materials at the branches. The fate of the buildings and land, owned by the Hammond Public Library, also isn't known, Taylor said.
"We are not closing these libraries because of lack of need. There's a need for more libraries," he said. "We've made drastic cuts already. We can't spend what we don't have."