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Aldermen rip mayor’s proposed library cuts

Chicago aldermen complained Friday that libraries are taking an unfair hit in the 2012 budget. They have a point, considering the list of 517 layoffs and 2,159 vacancy reductions released Friday.

Department Layoffs Vacancies
Libraries 283 186
Health 53 25
OEMC 34 87
Family and Support Services 31 71
Streets and Sanitation 18 105
Police 17 1,345
Buildings 17 31
Animal Care and Control 13 0
Fleet and Facility Management 11 21
Commission on Human Relations 8 4
Water Management 0 34
Housing and Economic Dev. 0 16
Aviation 0 64
Business Affairs and Consumer Protection 3 13

Updated: November 23, 2011 8:06AM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to reduce library hours and impose “draconian” job cuts that would impact library services at all hours is in danger of being shelved.

Aldermen from across the city made that clear during City Council budget hearings Friday to the applause of library employees who stand to lose their jobs.

They decried the mayor’s decision to reduce corporate fund support for libraries by $10 million — even as the city continues to build new libraries on top of the 59 constructed under former Mayor Richard M. Daley.

They argued that libraries that serve as “safe-havens,” computer and homework centers in many crime-ridden, inner-city communities would be unable to function with 363 fewer “full-time equivalent” employees.

“Three percent of the budget. Fifty percent of the cuts. It makes no sense. It’s ridiculous,” said Budget Committee Chairman Carrie Austin (34th).

Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) said students from schools with “closet libraries” they get to access once a week descend on branch libraries to use computers, get help with their homework and stay off sometimes dangerous city streets. “It’s wrong. It’s unacceptable. We have to do something else to spread the pain.,” he said.

Ald. John Pope (10th) said he was even willing to consider a small property tax increase if that’s what it takes to avoid cuts. And Rules Committee Chairman Richard Mell (33rd) suggested recruiting senior citizen volunteers to staff libraries and going hat-in-hand to the billionaire Pritzker family and other “big hitters” to ask them to ante up the $10 million for libraries the mayor cut.

Library Commissioner Mary Dempsey acknowledged that the mayor’s plan would trigger 284 layoffs and the elimination of 268 vacancies. That includes: 24 librarians, four of them branch managers, 11 of them children’s librarians; 112 clerks and all 146 of the remaining “pages” charged with shelving books.

The Sun-Times reported Sunday that the mayor’s plan to lay off 517 city employees and eliminate 776 vacancies would have an inordinate and devastating impact on all library operations — not just on Mondays and Fridays when branch libraries would open at noon instead of 8 a.m.

With the aldermen doing the dirty work for her, Dempsey played the good soldier Friday. But she gave a strong hint of the bitter negotiations that preceded the mayor’s budget address.

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