HAMMOND | Legislation addressing the Hammond Public Library is still a work in progress weeks into the Indiana General Assembly session.
Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr., who floated the idea of the library consolidating with the Lake County Public Library, said he's worked with numerous legislators on a bill, but gaining momentum for consolidation is proving “a little bit tougher than anticipated.”
The Hammond City Council denied an $800,000 increase to the library's proposed budget for this year. The denial meant the library had to revert to its 2012 budget, a move library administrators said at the time of the vote could lead to more than 20 layoffs.
Meanwhile, state Rep. Linda Lawson, D-Hammond, said she's worked on the issue for three weeks. Lawson said she will know more once she receives figures on the tax impact of consolidation from the Department of Local Government Finance and the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency.
“If there's a remedy, I don't even know if there is one at this point,” Lawson said. “I just want to keep my Hammond library at all costs. I want that library to stay there.
"It is a valuable asset in our community. We're the largest community in Lake County. I can't imagine us not having a library."
The library had received a general fund budget of $2.8 million in 2012, a reduction from the $4 million approved in 2011 and 2010. It sought for the City Council to approve a general fund budget of $3.6 million for this year.
The library's budget had been lowered because of an advertising issue, said Jenny Banks, Department of Local Government Finance spokeswoman.
Banks said budgets also are limited to the amount of funding available and adjusted accordingly.
McDermott said he's worked with numerous state representatives on a bill and has spoken with Republican legislators who he said seemed interested in the issue.
“I have done everything I can as mayor,” McDermott said. “What I was told for the last year by the Hammond Public Library is that they don't have enough money to operate the main branch.
"I promised to go down to the state to consolidate them with the county library system, so they have enough money to keep doors open. Now they are down there saying they have plenty of money.”
State law required the City Council to vote on the budget for the first time this year because the library board is appointed, and it was requesting a budget increase.
Rene Greenleaf, Hammond Public Library director, said in a statement that the library wants to see legislation "that would allow us to utilize dollars we already have to improve and provide needed services and resources to our Hammond community patrons."
Lawson said she expects by next week to have a clear answer on how to proceed.
“It may not even be anything we have to do legislatively,” Lawson said. “Maybe it is all of us sitting down and coming to an agreement.”