Newly elected Mayor Lisa Wong of Fitchburg, considered one of the state's rising political stars, is pushing through a 68 percent cut in funding for that city's library system -- guaranteeing a loss of accreditation from the Massachusetts Library Commission. Will the move be seen as a sign of fiscal responsibility or as an abandonment of an essential government service?
The Worcester Telegram and Gazette's Lynne Klaft reports that Fitchburg would become the largest community in the state to lose library accreditation if the City Council, as expected, approves Wong's budget:
The reduced budget would mean the library would be open only three days a week for a total of 21 hours, with seven part-time employees working the desks. Most children’s programs and concerts would be cut; no new books, magazines or periodicals would be purchased; and computer stations would be shut down....
Fitchburg’s library would have to be open a minimum of 63 hours per week and be funded through the city at a minimum of $1,112,662 in order to maintain its accreditation status, allowing residents to participate in interlibrary loans, and to qualify for state funding of about $75,000 per year.
Given the current "municipal meltdown" in finances, there has been much talk of regionalizing services such as schools, fire departments, and pension management. Libraries may come under similar scrutiny, especially if communities as large as Fitchburg (about 40,000) virtually shut them down.
NOTE: Mayor Wong will be a panelist at "Too Many Left Behind: New Choices and Challenges for Massachusetts School Reform," a Boston College Citizen Seminar on June 18 co-sponsored by MassINC. Click here for information and to RSVP.