HAMMOND | Supporters of the Hammond Public Library petitioned the Hammond City Council on Monday to reconsider a budget increase the library originally requested in September.
The speakers repeatedly asked council members to release $800,000 in funds library officials maintain are available, but can't be used because the City Council denied the increase to its 2013 budget. Many of the speeches made by library proponents were met with applause from the packed room.
Library Director Rene Greenleaf said the library currently has about $1.3 million available in a rainy day fund. Greenleaf said she wanted to come before the council again to ask for the additional appropriation.
“So we can fund the library, so that we can improve the computer systems, so that we can provide for services that you all said to the Hammond community that you would provide,” Greenleaf said.
Rebecca Brown, of Hammond, asked the City Council to readdress the library's budget for the community's sake.
“It's a very important, intricate part of our community for our children and citizens of Hammond,” Brown said. “Also it would be different if they didn't have the money, but they have the money. So I'd like for that money to be released.”
City administrators had advised council members that approving the proposed budget increase would have negatively impacted city finances because of Indiana’s property tax caps. The library had sought a $3.6 million general fund budget for 2013, but reverted to its 2012 budget of $2.8 million with the council's denial.
Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. has requested state lawmakers merge the Hammond Public Library into the Lake County Public Library, a move he said would save Hammond property taxpayers money. Legislators currently are weighing sending the proposed merger to a summer study committee.
Council President Michael Opinker, D-5th, said the Hammond library is not closing, despite the concerns shared by many of the speakers.
“The library is not closing, 90 percent of these people who came up and spoke, they don't know the facts,” Opinker said. “If it's closing that would be one thing, but it's not. They have the money to keep rolling.”
Councilman Homero “Chico” Hinojosa, D-6th, said he was the sole council member to vote in favor of the library's budget request in September after touring the building and seeing old computers, a rusty smoke stack and carpet stains.
“Sometimes there's bad decisions made on this council,” Hinojosa said. “I mean we learn from our mistakes.”