LA CROSSE, Wisconsin (WXOW) -- The La Crosse city board of estimates Monday evening said it will explore options to help the La Crosse public library unlock funding stored in special, reserve funds in an effort to help the library avoid shutting down one of its three buildings.
City budget demands issued in August led the library board to propose closing the library's south side branch, located on 16th Street, as a way to cut its spending for fiscal year 2014.
The library is projected to run a more than $260-thousand deficit next year. Closing the south side library would cover more than half of that.
Kelly Krieg-Sigman, the library's director, presented the proposed budget to the city's board of estimates Monday evening.
She said the library has enough money in its reserve fund to cover the deficit, but that would leave the fund almost bare to deal with other, possible budget shortfalls in the future.
She also said the library has other reserve funds, created by donors, with one of them containing roughly $1-million.
But Krieg-Sigman added those funds were set up using guidelines which prevent the money from being used on "operating expenses." Mayor Tim Kabat said city officials and the library's board, which sets its budget according to the monetary guidelines provided by the city, should confer on possibly changing the rules to allow the library to withdraw the necessary money to remain open.
The city's budget does not have to be finalized until the end of November, meaning the library has several months to consider alternative ways to cut spending.
But James Cherf, the lone council member on the library board, said the alternative presented involved drastically cutting the resources at all library branches.
He said he feels that closing one branch and allowing the other two buildings to operate at full staff is the lesser of two evils.
"This is unfortunately a drastic choice at an unfortunate crossroads where we're not seeing any relief, in the future, from this deficit," Cherf said.
Earlier Monday, locals gathered at the south side library for a rally opposing the proposed closure.
City council member Sara Sullivan said she's adamantly opposed to closing the library, which borders her district.
She said the library provides a "core hub" in the south side neighborhood.
Sullivan said while she wouldn't vote against the entire budget if the proposal to shut down the library is included, she will "certainly do a lot of arguing."
She said she believes the city can find the money to help the library offset its proposed deficit. Sullivan said the library can then use the extra, twelve-month lifeline to arrive at a sustainable, long-term solution. That's the approach also favored by Kabat.
Cherf said he's willing to hear, and possibly support, various proposals to help keep the south branch of the library open.
But he remains a realist.
"Can the money be found? Yes," Cherf said. "Will it come at a cost to something else? Absolutely."
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