By Cindi Andrews
The Cincinnati Enquirer
The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County would like to build new branches in Reading, Bond Hill and Woodlawn, but those projects and most others could be delayed for the next two years unless the state budget improves.
"I don't want to kid people - we're really in a tough financial situation," finance committee Chairman Charles Lindberg said.
The library board set its capital priorities Monday as part of its formal 2004 budget proposal.
The three new branches and a new parking lot for the Westwood branch were in the library's 2003 plans until a drop in state sales tax receipts reduced its funding beginning last summer. The board was going to make up the shortfall by closing five branches but instead cancelled the capital projects after a public outcry.
The 2004 budget proposal also seeks to boost branch hours and staffing - other casualties of the funding reduction - back to their early 2002 levels.
However, asking is not the same as getting, board members stressed Monday. If the money stays tight, the $13.6 million worth of construction projects will be the first spending dropped.
The General Assembly is building the state budget for the next two years now, to take effect in July. There's no indication that the Cincinnati library - which counts on the state for 95 percent of its approximately $50 million budget - will get any more money this year.
The House had considered cutting libraries' funding by more than half, but voted last week to keep it at the current level.
"We are continuing to plan ahead and hope we have the money to do (capital projects) in the future," Executive Director Kimber Fender said.
The library board authorized staff Monday to negotiate with Cincinnati Public Schools to build the new Bond Hill branch next to Woodward High School. CPS is rebuilding the high school at Seymour and Reading roads and has offered to share the site.
The new branch would replace a much smaller one at 1703 Dale Road and also would include a 12,000-square-foot computer training center, Fender said.
However, the project doesn't have universal community support: Bond Hill resident Earl Broadnax asked the board to reconsider it, saying the Dale Road location is more convenient for neighborhood kids to walk to.
For now, the library system's only construction project is a renovation of the Clifton branch on Ludlow Avenue and that's only because a private donation is covering the $133,000 cost.
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