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Boro pols urge mayor to restore library funding

City Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing) joined Council members from Brooklyn, the Bronx and Manhattan at City Hall last Thursday to call for a restoration of library funding, even as the mayor's 2006 budget proposed cutting the borough's budget by $7.7 million. The 63 libraries in the Queens library system, the largest circulating system in the nation, operated with $66.9 million from the city in 2005. This year the city budget gives the library only $60.5 million, according to the library's director of government and community relations, Jimmy Van Bramer. The $49 billion 2006 citywide executive budget, unveiled May 5, is currently being finalized in negotiations between the mayor's office and representatives of the City Council, according to a mayoral spokesman, who said the restoration of library funds was likely.By state law, a final budget must be approved by end of the fiscal year on June 30.Liu said the libraries were an integral part of the community and that without a restoration of funding the libraries would have to cut back on book purchasing and hours of operation. Besides lending books, the library hosts hundreds of events, including lectures, classes and art exhibits."We would much prefer that kids spend time in libraries than in less desirable activities," he said after the news conference at City Hall.The Queen's library system, along with other city agencies, was asked to reduce spending by 6 percent, or $3.6 million, according to a mayoral spokesman Jordan Barowitz. But he said the city later gave the libraries a reprieve, reducing the cut by half to $1.8 million. "If the Council chooses to make additional funding in libraries a priority, then we will work with them," he said.The Queens Borough Public Library has seen its hours of operations shrink over the past two years, according to Van Bramer."In the executive budget being proposed there are $7.7 million in reductions for the Queens Library, and that would be on top of $8.1 million that we have already sustained in cuts from previous years," he said and then added, "[over the past two years] the hours in libraries in Queens have been scaled back. Now 44 libraries in Queens are not open Saturday or Sunday."He said funding would have to rise by $16.7 million to keep the libraries open six days a week. He noted, however, that the library received "unprecedented" capital funding last year, totaling more than $15 million, which is allowing the system to grow in square feet if not in hours of operation, with new libraries in Long Island City and Cambria Heights under construction."We are hopeful that the mayor and City Council will restore funding and get to the level to open all neighborhood libraries six or seven days per week," he said.Melinda Katz (D-Forest Hills) said last week in an interview that she would work toward that. "We are trying to restore funding. In addition, we need to add money to get up to six days per week."City Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) feared library cutbacks could reduce service to three days at some branches.. "We need libraries to help the children, the elderly and the new immigrant population," he said.Reach reporter Adam Pincus by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0030, Ext. 154.

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