The Gary Public Library Board is making some drastic cuts -- including decisions expected tonight that could cut the payroll 40 to 50 percent and the overall budget by 50 percent. It is painful but inevitable as revenue plummets.
Last week, the property tax collection rate in Gary was revealed to be a dismal 68 percent, meaning one-third of the property taxes due in that city aren't being paid. That's dire news for a municipality that already is facing property tax caps, a frozen property tax levy and a strong demand for services.
What the Gary Public Library Board is facing is not an easy choice, nor is it unique to Gary. Hammond has shut down library branches, and LaPorte County is attempting to do the same.
Some 3,000 Gary residents have signed a petition opposing the closure of the main library, which is being turned into a cultural center. But where would they come up with the money to achieve their objective?
Operating the building as the main library cost about $2.3 million a year, said Library Board President Tony Walker, compared to about $350,000 per year to operate a cultural center there.
It's important to note that even as the main library is closed, there will be branch libraries circulating books, CDs, movies and other materials.
Converting the main library into a cultural center follows in the footsteps of not only Chicago but also a number of communities across Indiana.
Tonight, the Library Board is expected not only to hear a presentation on the reorganization plan but also to vote on it. It is a meeting the public should attend.
It is important to remember that the library board is not shutting down all library services, but rather shifting its focus to the remaining branch libraries. It's far from the ideal situation, but the board has little choice in order to live within its means.