Having jettisoned the Hammond Health Department a few years ago to cut costs, Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. wants the city's library system to merge with the Lake County Public Library system.
There's an element of politics involved, of course, but also of good government. Hammond Public Library's appointed board wanted to boost its spending $800,000 in 2013, but the mayor and City Council said no.
This is the first year for the City Council to review the library budget, under the terms of a new state law that requires an elected board review budgets created by appointed boards.
McDermott said consolidation with the Lake County Public Library system will be one of his top legislative priorities when the Indiana General Assembly convenes next year.
Some context is needed here. Lake County has seven different public library systems. Porter County has two -- one for Westchester Township and one for the other 11 townships.
Lake County Library Director Ana Grandfield is concerned about the hidden costs of library consolidation. McDermott looks forward to a lower tax rate in Hammond, but Grandfield is concerned about dilution of services to existing patrons.
"In all honesty, if we take on Hammond, it would be very difficult to give the same quality of service to everybody because we're going to be spreading ourselves thinner," Grandfield said.
Without the merger, though, Hammond library services could suffer. Paul Taylor, Hammond Library Board president, said the library could be forced to lay off half its staff next summer.
Current state law allows libraries to merge, but only if both boards agree.
The Legislature should encourage additional mergers, following a recommendation of the Kernan-Shepard Report on reforming local government.
That report, from the Indiana Commission on Local Government Reform, urged that libraries consolidate at the county level to make sure the entire county is served -- which is already the case here -- and that administrative costs be reduced.
Why should Lake County have seven library directors instead of one? Why shouldn't purchasing be done jointly?
We've already seen the Gary and Hammond library systems contract. It would be better to pursue a merger than to see further cuts in service.
Careful planning would be necessary to work out the logistics for a smooth transition, of course, but the cost savings and increased efficiency would be worth the effort.
Especially in Lake County, with its seven library systems, library consolidation efforts could pay dividends.