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Hammond to close all branch libraries

HAMMOND – A northern Indiana city’s nearly 80,000 residents soon will share a single library after officials voted to shutter the community’s two remaining branches to close a budget shortfall.

More than 70 people packed a community room at Hammond’s main library Tuesday to plead with the Hammond Public Library Board to keep the two branches open, saying children and adults use the branches’ computers, books and programs.

Despite the pleas, the board voted to close the E.B. Hayward and Howard library branches as of Nov. 1 in a move that will save Hammond more than $500,000, more than half of the $801,000 it needs to cut from its 2011 budget.

Hammond resident Susie Morris, who attended Tuesday’s meeting, said libraries provide vital resources for children who may not have computers at home.

“This will just break my heart. There’s so much we’ve lost throughout the years in this city,” she said.

Library officials say seven employees who worked at the two branches will be transferred to the city’s main library.

The Times of Munster and the Post-Tribune of Merrillville report that property tax caps, a frozen tax levy and incomplete tax collection sealed the branches’ fate.

Board president Paul Taylor said board members were unhappy that they had to approve the closures because the city actually needs more branches.

“We are not closing these libraries because of lack of need. There’s a need for more libraries,” he said. “We’ve made drastic cuts already. We can’t spend what we don’t have.”

The Times reports that tax caps Indiana voters added to the state constitution cut the amount of property taxes libraries receive. Property taxes account for 93 percent of the Hammond library district’s main source of operating funds, Taylor said.

State lawmakers also froze Lake County’s tax levy because the county has failed to adopt a local-option income tax. And in May the county collected only 86 percent of the property taxes owed.

All of those forces led to this year’s more than $800,000 shortfall in library system revenue, Taylor said.

Library Director Rene Greenleaf said the two branches cost a total of $550,000 to operate each year, and both need major repairs including new roofs.

The Hammond library system’s budget approved in January was cut by $500,000 from the advertised 2011 budget. In July, the library board learned the additional $801,000 would be cut.

“Our budget went from $4 million to less than $2 million,” Taylor said.

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