Five gleaming new libraries — central to the recovery of neighborhoods like Broadmoor, Lakeview and eastern New Orleans — have been a big hit since reopening in 2011 and 2012.
But the libraries have been so costly to operate that the system has blown through a $12 million reserve fund in about three years, mostly to handle the expanded staffing costs. A dedicated tax millage that hasn’t increased since 1986 — and was rolled back after Hurricane Katrina — no longer raises enough money to cover the system’s personnel costs.
The tax raised $8.7 million last year, but personnel alone cost $8.9 million, leaving only the reserves to cover the $3 million needed for computers, software, maintenance, security, utilities, office supplies and, most significantly, books.
“We’ll have no operating funds to put the lights on, to open the library, to augment our collections and all the things that libraries do,” Library Board Chairman Bernard Charbonnet said.
Starting in 2015, the city must find another $3 million just to maintain current service levels and programming options at the existing branches. Even if that happens, the system would still lag woefully behind other city systems its size in terms of funding per capita, and even behind the other major library systems in the state of Louisiana.