HAMMOND | The Hammond Public Library would merge with the Lake County library system by next year under legislation now moving forward in the Indiana House.
Under the bill, the merger would occur without the Hammond and Lake County library boards having to agree to the change. The boards also wouldn't have to adopt a plan to carry out the merger.
The Lake County Public Library would take on all the property, employees, contracts and debt of the Hammond library as of Jan. 1, 2014, according to the bill that passed a House committee unanimously Thursday.
Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. said the bill accomplishes what the city had sought to keep the Hammond Public Library open. He said the idea is found in the 2007 Kernan-Shepard report that made suggestions on local government reform and called for library systems to be organized by county.
“This is the type of thing we need to do in Lake County to help be more efficient,” McDermott said. “I think these Republican leaders downstate are recognizing what we are trying to do in Hammond and get more efficient.”
State Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon, D-Munster, who is the sponsor of House Bill 1145, said ultimately the bill will likely serve as a starting point and call for the study of a merger.
"I think it's a very complex issue for a short timeframe," Candelaria Reardon said. "I think that while the mayor has the best intention of providing the best services and the most efficiencies to his community, I think perhaps further study of exactly what that would look like might be needed."
Under the merger, Hammond property taxpayers are expected to pay less for library services than what they currently do. But the tax rate for the Lake County Public Library may increase by 2 cents per $100 of taxable property to 12 cents, Lake County Public Library Director Ana Grandfield told The Times by email Thursday.
“Financial sense for Hammond does not trump tax increases for 13 other communities,” Grandfield said.
Grandfield argued the bill would “completely disregard” the two library boards and that any bond debt should stay with Hammond. Grandfield said as she understood the situation, the Hammond Public Library and Hammond City Council have the means to solve the financial situation the library is facing.
Hammond Public Library Director Rene Greenleaf was not available for comment Thursday.
The bill comes after the Hammond City Council denied a proposed $800,000 increase to the library's budget for this year. At the time of the vote, library administrators said the denial could lead to more than 20 layoffs. In 2011, the library closed the E.B. Hayward and Howard branches because of financial constraints.