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Proposed Eugene budget would cut 17% of library general fund

Main entrance to Eugene Public Library
Chrissy Ewald
The Eugene Public Library is facing a significant budget cut in the city's proposed spending plan.

The city of Eugene has proposed significant cuts to the budget of Eugene Public Library for the two-year budget cycle that begins July 1.

The spending proposal was released in April, and would cut overall city expenditures by 2%. It would reduce the amount of funding the library’s general fund receives by 17%. The general fund makes up 80% of the library’s budget, with another 17% coming from a levy that passed in 2020 and 3% coming from donations.

“The problem is that the library depends on that city amount for 80% of its funding,” said Linda Ague, a board member for the Eugene Public Library Foundation. “So when you take a big chunk of that 80% that the library depends on, that’s a big hit.”

The proposed cuts would eliminate around 12 full-time equivalent staff positions. Of the potential job cuts, 9.2 are paid for from the general fund and are currently unfilled. It would also cut $1.8 million each year from books, materials, databases, and digital services.

Other departments, including Eugene Springfield Fire and Eugene Parks and Recreation, are also being asked to take cuts.

“To address key funding issues in the near term, some difficult decisions have to be made,” said Eugene City Manager Sarah Medary in a budget message posted on the city’s website. “Departments worked hard to find ways to reduce services without eliminating them completely. Examples of this are Animal Welfare and Library Services… By eliminating several vacant positions, the library will be able to keep the branch libraries intact.”

Eugene Public Library went fine-free in May 2022. Even before then, “the fines themselves didn’t really raise revenue, it just paid the staff to do the work of tracking them down and managing them,” said Dana Fleming, executive director of the Friends of Eugene Public Library. “Some people were like, ‘Wait, that will take away, you know, the sense of responsibility.’ What we learned was that a lot of folks were starting to come back and use the library again.”

If the proposed budget is adopted by the city council, several library services would be cut or reduced, say supporters.

“The big change is that there’s going to be a slowdown in circulation,” Fleming said. “There will also be a reduction in programming.” This would include eliminating several off-site programs, including a computer literacy course available at Eugene Mission and librarian visits to local public schools, many of which do not have librarians on staff.

Fleming also worries that not hiring new staff would affect retention and future recruitment, as well as the mental health of existing staff..

“It can be a very high-stress job,” said Fleming. “(The employees) care a lot about what they’re doing, and that’s why they stick it out. But it could also lead to turnover, and it might be hard to keep people in that position.”

The proposed city budget prioritizes homeless outreach and prevention services. Fleming noted that librarians often have a primary role in providing such services to vulnerable people.

“When librarians go into library science, they, a lot of times, aren’t thinking they’re also going to be crisis negotiators, and nurses, and social workers, and all the other things that they are now because libraries are just such a safe space for everyone,” she said.

Members of the public have one more chance to comment on the proposed city budget during a public hearing held by the city budget committee on May 24 at 5:30 p.m. The city council’s final budget adoption vote is on June 26 at 7:30 p.m. on Zoom and in person.

Chrissy Ewald is a freelance reporter for KLCC. She first reported for KLCC as the 2023 Snowden Intern.
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