More Tacoma Public Library services could be on the chopping block.
Faced with a request to suggest cuts in its next budget, the library is weighing closing either the Kobetich branch in Northeast Tacoma or the Northwest Room, which houses local history, genealogy and special collections at the library’s main branch.
Library Director Susan Odencrantz said a May memo from the city targeted cutting 4 percent from her 2017-18 baseline budget, or $903,318.
Closing the Northwest Room, considered a treasure trove of historical information by Tacoma’s researchers and history buffs, would save $621,000 over two years, she said; closing the Kobetich branch, the only Tacoma library branch in the Northeast neighborhood, would save $852,000.
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Even if the library board chooses one of those options, it will still have to dig deeper to shave 4 percent from its budget, Odencrantz said.
$903,318 Amount the library has been asked to shave from its 2017-18 budget $852,000 Savings in two-year budget if Kobetich branch closes $621,000 Savings in two-year budget if Northwest Room closes
“Those were two options that were initially put on the table for a discussion with the city manager and City Council,” she said. “We don’t see it as a final decision by any means, nor are we limited to those options … I just want to emphasize it was an opening analysis of what might be required of the library should that amount of money be taken from us.”
She said city leaders asked the library to consider two criteria in identifying cuts. One was the savings the cuts would create. The other was an “equity lens,” which Odencrantz said means avoiding cuts that would heavily impact “protected groups of people.”
City Budget Officer Tadd Wille said the library could end up not having to cut as much, or at all, if the money is made up elsewhere.
Because the city is forecasting a $6.7 million general fund shortfall in its upcoming two-year budget, the budget and city manager’s offices asked all departments to identify 2 to 4 percent cuts. The amount varied by department, although most were asked to aim for the higher number. The targets for police and fire were 2 percent. Planning and Environmental Services was to aim for 3 percent.
“We are very early in the budget process, and all proposals to reduce or add are still being discussed and won’t be finalized for the next couple of months,” Wille said. City Manager T.C. Broadnax will decide which cuts to include in the proposed budget he presents to the City Council and the public this fall.
Tacoma historian Michael Sullivan said losing the Northwest Room, which he called a rich cultural asset for the city, would be “just unimaginable.”
“It’s like having the grandma who came to every family reunion and you relied on her to share values and everything with the family, and her passing,” Sullivan said. “Just a million things that you can’t replace and just to shut that whole access to our city’s memory off … . There are a few things Tacoma does extraordinarily better than any other city, and in the Northwest Room we do that.”
If the Northwest Room were to close, its materials could be stored for a time or included in another library’s archive, Odencrantz said.
It wouldn’t be the first time in recent years the Tacoma Library Board of Trustees was forced to make a tough decision in the face of the city’s financial troubles. In 2011, the board shuttered the Swan Creek and MLK library branches. Both properties later were sold.
There are a few things Tacoma does extraordinarily better than any other city, and in the Northwest Room we do that.
Michael Sullivan, Tacoma historian
Library Board President Jack Connelly said the trustees are reluctant to close more.
“It was very difficult when we closed Swan Creek and MLK, and when we closed those there was a slight hope we’d be able to get them back some day, and what we learned was when you close a library it doesn’t come back. So we’re very, very reluctant to close anything,” he said.
Northeast Tacoma residents would use King County’s two libraries in Federal Way if Kobetich were to close, Odencrantz said.
John Thurlow, co-chairman of the Northeast Tacoma Neighborhood Council, said closing the library would seriously affect residents in that area.
“I think in the course of the budgeting that somehow we have to really buckle down and figure out how to support the library system,” Thurlow said. “It’s been cut and cut and cut, and the library is very important to the intellectual life of the city.”
Candice Ruud: 253-597-8441