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Library Board, city officials clash over LaSalle branch

Amid the backdrop of a court ruling calling for full city funding for libraries, city and library officials locked horns during a public meeting Wednesday designed to come up with solutions.

The "Save the LaSalle Library" meeting held in the branch library on Buffalo Avenue was hosted by County Legislator Sean J. O'Connor, D-Niagara Falls, and the LaSalle Business Association, and attended by more than 20 residents.

While it was meant to be a brainstorming session on how to ensure the city's only branch library stays open, it ended with most residents walking out during a shouting match between Library Board Vice President Ken Hamilton and City Comptroller Maria Brown.

The city underfunded its two libraries this year by $1 million, but recently offered about $400,000 more for the rest of the year. State Supreme Court Justice Vincent E. Doyle on Monday ordered the city to pay the entire $2 million appropriated in the city's 2005 adopted budget.

The Library Board had discussed closing the LaSalle Branch before Doyle's decision but said it could remain open if fully funded.

Mayor Vince Anello has said he doesn't have enough money to fully fund the libraries, despite Doyle's decision.

A group of residents and business owners in LaSalle say they have collected more than 800 signatures on a petition in support of keeping the building open and fully funded.

The petition also asks Anello to form a task force to make recommendations on using the building as a multipurpose center, new funding, consideration of heritage designation for the 1924 library building and making the building accessible to the disabled.

Anello said he is seeking volunteers for the task force, which could hold its first meeting in October.

Other ideas pitched at the meeting include opening a coffee house in the library, leasing space to tenants at the main library and using more volunteers.

Association Vice President Anne Sawicki challenged members of the audience to come up with their own ideas.

"People say they want change," she said. "But when it comes right down to it, they stick with what they know."

e-mail: gnorheim@buffnews.com

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