Madison libraries could see hours, staff, branch cuts due to budget shortfalls from coronavirus

MADISON, Wis. — The city of Madison is planning on being short tens of millions of dollars of what it normally has to build a budget due to the economic impact of COVID-19.

That likely means cuts to city services.

The city is starting budget talks now, but before agencies tell the city how much money they need to operate next year, they’re first being asked to find room to cut 5%. For the public library system, that could mean layoffs, branch hours cut and could include the closure of the Monroe Street branch.

“There are so many benefits that a public library provides a city and we hate to see a reduction in that benefit,” said Tana Elias, the digital services and marketing manager for the library.

The library system in Madison was faced with nothing but difficult decisions in putting together its budget proposal for next year. The 5% cut meant finding a way to do without $1 million dollars.

“It’s an incredibly hard conversation for us to have,” Elias said. “We do feel like we operate very efficiently and effectively and we hear from our customers every day how important the library is to them.”

Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway said the city is facing a $25 to $30 million revenue shortfall this year, and she expects next year to be similar, with about a $20 million short. Other agencies will have to plan for cuts too, which could affect services from the city.

“None of these decisions are easy,” Rhodes-Conway said. “I don’t think there’s anybody on staff that wants to be in this position or feels good about the decisions they’re having to make and the proposals they’ll have to bring forward, and certainly I don’t feel good about any of this either.”

Final decisions on how much and what will be cut are still a few months away.

The library is looking at options, most of which would close the Monroe Street branch until they have enough money to open it again.

Hours at other branches would likely have to be cut, and they also may have to get rid of between 19 and 27 positions – some layoffs, some already vacant.

As these talks move forward, the library and the city, want to know what the public thinks.

“We’re definitely looking for good ideas,” Rhodes-Conway said. “We’re looking for places where we can save money, and if folks in the public have ideas they should absolutely contact us.”

She said ideally, the city would get money from the HEROES Act, which is sitting in the U.S. Senate. It has a provision that gives relief to cities.

If that doesn’t happen, staff and service cuts are likely.

The library board is scheduled to meet Thursday night to discuss options for the budget proposal. A link to watch is available here.