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COUNCIL VOWS TO KEEP LIBRARIES OPEN IF REFERENDUM FAILS

An outspoken crowd demanded Thursday that the City Council find money in the general budget to keep the city's two public libraries open for the rest of the year.

Council members promised they would.

"I feel guilty for not coming here in November when you were working on the budget," said Geri Mitro, who uses the library in home-schooling her 15-year-old son. "I did not think anyone needed to tell you we needed to keep a library in the budget because it's so common sense."

The city's current budget provides only $1 million for the library, half its annual operating costs.

After stalling for weeks, the City Council voted at Thursday's special meeting to approve a memorandum of understanding and lease agreement with the library.

The library board of trustees said it needed those agreements before it could seek voter approval for forming a school district library and adopting its own $1.8 million budget, which would be funded with a separate library tax on residents.

If voters approve the move in a referendum, the 10-year lease would allow the board to use the Earl W. Brydges and LaSalle Branch Library buildings rent free, waiving the usual annual rent of $300,000.

Although City Council Chairman Charles Walker acknowledged residents could shoulder the tax more easily if the city budget were reduced by an equal amount, he urged residents to approve the school district library because it would take the library out of the hands of politicians.

Residents said they don't want to pay additional taxes for something they believe is the city's responsibility.

"If this fails, it will remain open because you have five Council members committed to keeping the library open," Walker said.

In case voters do not approve a referendum, tentatively set for June 21, the City Council unanimously voted to ask Mayor Vince Anello to amend the city budget to provide additional money for the library from the State Power Authority relicensing payout expected in August, or from the local share of Seneca Niagara Casino revenue.

Later Thursday, State Sen. George Maziarz, R-Newfane, said the state budget would provide Niagara Falls with an additional $1.2 million in state aid this year for a total of $12.5 million.

"Send that to the library and keep it open," Maziarz urged. "Every community needs a library."

email: gnorheim@buffnews.com

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