By Brenden West Assistant Editor
The Clinton Herald
---- — CLINTON — The phone rings again Monday morning in Library Director Amy Birtell’s basement office at the Clinton Public Library. For the last week, since the Clinton City Council approved a $40,783 cut of her budget, it’s been ringing “non-stop,” Birtell says.
At 10:30 a.m., she already has four messages, and she’s pretty certain what about.
Clinton’s Lyons Branch will cease operations, helping the city save $260,161 in its overall budget. Birtell said she’s optimistic the space can be used in a “community center” capacity. Conversations about what will happen to the Lyons Branch will take place this week.
”We are still in terrible economic times,” said Birtell, now in her third year as director. “It’s going to affect the cities as well.”
The cut allows Clinton to reduce its property tax levy to $16.32 per $1,000 in assessed valuation. It’s the largest reduction of any department in the general fund, beating out the vacant city attorney office’s $40,310 cut. The rough savings per property owner equates to just over $13 annually.
”With these reductions, we’re going to be hurting as a city,” Birtell said. “If we’re going to reduce property taxes as well, that’s going to be less money to operate with and to pay off our debts.”
Clinton’s most expensive departments — police and fire — account for more than 64 percent of the city’s total operating budget. They received $5,160 and $6,500 in cuts (respectively), enough not to reduce personnel.
The library runs a distant third for operating costs, accounting for 7.2 percent of the general fund. It was one of two departments to receive a five-figure slash. Since this impacts Lyons Branch operations it jeopardizes the four part-time staffers it takes to run the facility. It costs roughly $30,000 annually to staff the branch.
”My general comment during the budget process is we’re all having to make allowances,” Birtell said.
She believes personnel can be saved by not replacing part-time college students currently working for her. The frustrating part, she says, is that department heads worked diligently this year to prepare a budget creating a $143,000 surplus, which will be used to cover a court settlement between Clinton and Archer Daniels Midland.
When city leaders opted to cut out the Emergency Levy two weeks ago (reducing the overall levy by 27 cents), departments maneuvered to fit their budgets underneath. Birtell said she was surprised to learn during the final city budget workshop that her department took the brunt.
”I didn’t know we were going to take the biggest hit,” she said. “I thought that we were going to be working it out in some way... I didn’t realize the breakdown with departments.”
She added that limiting the Lyons Branch is not a permanent fix to city problems. In fact, the deed received by Clinton when it obtained the branch in the 1950s specifies the facility can only be used for library purposes.
Library officials also feel there is a cultural impact. Those like Mary Bertrand say a reduced version of the Lyons Branch takes a toll on the surrounding community.
”It’s sad. You see it as one more thing having to go away with the economy and tough situations,” said Bertrand, an assistant cataloguer. The branch reminds her of childhood on the north end, a hangout place for youths in its heyday. “You really get to know people more up at Lyons.”
Birtell holds optimism that Clinton residents will still get to utilize the library in some capacity. Since the space falls under her jurisdiction, Birtell said ideas like using Lyons Branch for a bulk of programming are being discussed. She’s also researching other libraries that have been re-purposed following closure.
“To expect that things would stay the same or that there would be no cuts, I think that was unrealistic,” Birtell said. “But on the other hand, I think people need to realize that if they actually look at their taxes and how much they’re paying for all those services that they get -- really they’re getting it for a bargain. People want those services and you’re going to have to pay to get them.”
As with many calls she’s taken this week, she has encouraged concerned residents to contact the City Council.